When Don Karcher's wife, Cindy, was diagnosed with lymphoma in March 2002, he was worried but hopeful. Doctors said it was one of the most curable forms of cancer.
She underwent surgery to have a lymph node removed, then endured radiation treatment to eradicate any stray cancer cells. But her renewed health came at a steep cost.
Karcher was a salesman at Fortran Printing, which was being run by a court-appointed receiver named Mark Dottore. Though employees were still having their insurance payments deducted from their paychecks, the coverage had been discontinued. Dottore just neglected to tell them.
Without insurance, Karcher was hit with a $25,000 bill.
"If he had had the balls to say, 'You don't have health insurance,' I would have been fine," Karcher says. "Or if he had told us within 60 days, I could have picked up the same plan through Medical Mutual. After 60 days, Medical Mutual didn't have to offer my wife insurance, because of a preexisting condition. We were at 90 days, so I couldn't get health insurance for my wife."
Karcher is not alone. After Scene's cover story about Dottore ["King Nothing," February 9], several Fortran employees came forward to complain about the shabby treatment they received during the receivership. In addition to medical expenses, they say they're still owed thousands of dollars in back pay. Even after Judge Nancy Russo ruled that they were entitled to the money, they still haven't seen a dime three years later.
Workers blame Dottore. But they also point fingers at the lawyer he personally recommended: Cleveland Councilman Mike Dolan.
Dottore and Dolan go way back. "I've known him since grade school," Dolan says.
Their friendship continued as Dolan pursued politics. The councilman has represented West Park since 1997. He often sought Dottore's help during elections along the way. In 2000, he paid Dottore $4,000 for "consulting" services, campaign-finance records show. At one point, the Committee to Re-Elect Michael A. Dolan even listed Dottore's Canal Street warehouse as its address.
"They would do all the campaign mailings," Dolan says. "He does that for a lot of people -- judges and the county prosecutor, a lot of people. He even did it for the county chairman for a while, Jimmy Dimora. And when you're mailing out stuff in envelopes, that's not a fun job, so I paid him for it."
The money flowed both ways.
Dottore's job as a receiver is analogous to that of a bankruptcy trustee. Judges appoint him to oversee distressed businesses in hopes of his righting their course or at least stabilizing their finances.
But as Scene's investigation revealed, he has often been accused of padding his bills, neglecting workers, and enriching a handpicked supporting cast of friends and family members.
In at least three cases, he kicked legal work to Dolan. One of them even found the councilman opposing the city he was supposed to serve.
In January 2003, Dolan represented Dottore when he was receiver for General Environmental Management. The company formed in 2001 to provide marketing services to a waste-treatment business called Pure Tech. But Pure Tech's owner, Robert Kattula, wanted out. Facing the loss of their only customer, GEM's owners -- Scott Forster and Eric Lofquist -- offered to partner with Kattula to run the company.
Prior to the deal, Kattula had signed a consent agreement to clean up hazardous waste stored on Pure Tech's property. Forster and Lofquist claimed that they bore no responsibility for the cleanup, but Kattula argued that they had assumed Pure Tech's liabilities as part of the partnership. The dispute ultimately put the company into receivership. Dottore hired Dolan to provide expertise on corporate law.
Meanwhile, City Hall was still trying to get the hazardous waste cleaned up. It sued to enforce the consent agreement. This put Dolan in the odd position of defending a polluter who had reneged on a deal with the city for which he's a councilman. The city law department viewed it as a conflict and asked Dolan to step aside.
"When your client's interests and the city's diverge, your presence weakens the city's case in favor of your client's, since the city does not appear as a united front," wrote Assistant Law Director Shirley Tomasello.
It may also have been illegal. Tomasello's letter cited an Ohio Supreme Court opinion stating that "a lawyer who is a city council person would be prohibited . . . from representing a client in a civil matter adverse to the municipality . . . since it would create an appearance of impropriety."
Dolan downplays the issue, saying that he was advising Dottore on a related case that didn't involve the city. When a judge merged the two cases, "That was a conflict, so I walked away on it," he says.
But Dolan's council position also appears to have played a role in the Fortran case. When the company's employees first complained about back pay, Dottore recommended Dolan.
"He said, if you can get Mike -- that he's a city councilman and that will look good in front of Judge Russo, because he represents a lot of votes," says Dan Kellums, a former graphic designer.
"That was his exact words," says fellow employee Pete Kastanis. "[Dolan] held a lot of votes, and he held a lot of weight in court."
At first, Dolan seemed a staunch advocate. He petitioned the judge to get workers the money they were due, and Russo granted Dottore the authority to pay them. Dolan charged $2,380 for about 12 hours of work, of which a little more than half went to another lawyer who helped. The bill was covered with Fortran money controlled by Dottore.
Yet the workers never got paid. When they called Dolan to ask why, they discovered that he no longer wanted anything to do with the case. "He put me on a special line and said, 'I just want to tell you off the record, I washed my hands of this case,'" says Kastanis.
The workers were especially incensed that Dolan cashed a check before they did. "I thought, How did he get paid before me?" Kellums says. "If I'd known he was gonna act like this, I wouldn't have wanted him as my lawyer. I want a lawyer who was going to fight for me."
Without insurance, Kastanis was stuck with a $6,000 tab for his wife's hysterectomy. "All I know is, Fortran was making money when Mark took over that place, and he just got all his friends that he could a piece of the pie," Kastanis says. "Dolan was just another one."
Dolan says the blame rests with Dottore. "He was the one writing checks over there, not me," the councilman says. "Do I feel bad for those employees? Yeah, he should have paid their health insurance. He had the authority to do it. I don't know what to tell you. He didn't, for whatever his reasons are." (Dottore declined an interview with Scene.)
Until recently, Judge Russo didn't even know that the workers got stiffed. "I just assumed they got paid," she says. Had she known there was a problem, she could have ordered a hearing to hold Dottore accountable. But she relied on the workers' lawyer to look after their interests. "Dolan's the one who would have had to tell me," Russo says. "It would have been Dolan's ethical duty to tell me."
Today, Dolan has severed ties with Dottore, in part because of Dottore's behavior in the Fortran case. "His attitude had changed, where he got real cocky and egotistical," Dolan says. "And I thought, you know what? It ain't worth all the aggravation, so see you later."
That's little consolation to the debt-ridden workers waiting for their money.
"What gets me is, Mike Dolan was there to represent us. Now where's he at? He doesn't want anything to do with us," says Kastanis. "As far as I'm concerned, he's just as much of a rat as Dottore is."
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