Confronting the Chagrin Falls crime syndicate.

Fighting O'Malleys 

Confronting the Chagrin Falls crime syndicate.

Cuyahoga County Recorder Pat O'Malley isn't known for walking away from a brawl. He's been accused of bar fighting, beating his ex-wife, even slamming a door on an EMS worker ("Winner-Takes-All Brawl," January 31, 2002). Each time, he got off without criminal charges.

Not so on September 7, when O'Malley was arrested for assault after a Sunday-afternoon melee in -- get this -- downtown Chagrin Falls. (The Old Brooklyn native moved to the suburb after marrying his second wife in 2000.)

While O'Malley wouldn't talk to Scene about the incident, he did sit down with WKYC to explain that his 18-year-old son called him, screaming, after his SUV was surrounded by a band of eight youths. This being Chagrin Falls, it all sounds as menacing as being confronted by the Magnificat choir. But like any good dad, O'Malley rushed to the scene and kicked some ass.

He and a friend were arrested after witnesses pegged them as perpetrators. O'Malley was unrepentant. "Am I supposed to behave differently in defending my son because of my job?" he asked. A fine point indeed.

But he also hinted at the suburb's dark underbelly. "There's some young men in this town that maybe watch too many TV shows and want to fashion themselves after some organized crime operation, and are making a living in this town by threatening people, intimidating people, and harassing people," O'Malley said ominously. "Hopefully, this will wake some people up that we have a problem in Chagrin Falls."

Added sympathetic WKYC anchor Tim White, whose hair was perfect: "He's hopeful that now that it's on TV, it will draw attention to the problem."

But the broadcast apparently failed to catch the attention of Chagrin Falls Mayor Lydia Champlin. "I'd be curious to know what Mr. O'Malley is referring to," Champlin told Punch. "I think we're a safe village."

Denial, as we all know, is the first sign of a problem.

Dope news you can use

When Oxycontin became a nationwide craze, Appalachia hogged all the credit. But when it comes to cutting-edge drug abuse, our dentist-deprived friends have nothing on Northeast Ohio.

It started a year ago, when 14 Akron-area kids consumed the seeds of a moonflower, a locally grown plant known for its lovely white blooms and hallucinogenic properties. The youngsters achieved a righteous buzz. Regretfully, it was the kind that lands you in the hospital with a racing heart, hallucinations, and -- weirdly enough -- an inability to pee.

The kids recovered, but now the Centers for Disease Control says moonflower abuse may be a burgeoning trend among dumbass teens. According to its report, trafficking is not regulated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, but Northeast Ohio cops are cracking down nonetheless.

This last nugget, however, is news to Ohio lawmen. "Until it's made a law, they can't really do anything about it," says Michelle Gatchell, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General's office. She conducted an informal poll of drug cops. Her findings: "I got a lot of . . . What?"

Akron authorities are more forthcoming about methods of combating the menace. "You don't," explains Lieutenant Mike Caprez, narcotics unit commander for the Akron Police. "We have plenty of more severe problems."

Do they ever. "We get people licking frogs and picking up mushrooms and chewing nutmeg," Caprez says, hastily adding: "Don't mention any of that nutmeg stuff, or we'll have another problem on our hands."

You're sick? Who cares?

State Representative Ken Carano (D-Youngstown) has taken up the cause of medicinal marijuana for a very simple reason: "If it's going to help somebody's quality of life, then we should be doing something for them," the 59-year-old former teacher says. "This is America, for chrissakes."

But in politics, any effort to help people must first get tugged like taffy by extremists. So Carano is trying to craft legislation "logical enough" that lefties won't take it too far and start "irritating people," and conservatives won't be "so afraid" that they'll self-combust. When he proffered the seemingly neutral idea of providing pot in pill form, however, he was accused of being a lapdog of the pharmaceutical companies.

So much for working together to help the sick.

"I have a million things that I could get done," says Carano, who's once again at the drawing board. "I can't spend my time on something that's not going to get to committee."

Back in the day, when we weren't such a psycho state (that would be 1996), Ohio allowed judges and juries to consider whether a pot defendant used the drug to ease the effects of illness. But it only lasted for a moment. Elected officials, being the brave souls they are, quickly backtracked, claiming they had no idea how the provision made it into a 1,000-page bill.

It made for an interesting role reversal. Politicians were suddenly in a fog, claiming they knew nothing. Pot activists, by contrast, distinctly remembered testifying before a House Judiciary Committee. The provision was repealed.

Weird drug news, Part III

For the final installment of this week's Special Report on Drugs, we bring you Rhonda Scharf. Police recently found the Wickliffe woman in her car, slipping in and out of consciousness with a blood alcohol level of .33, which under the Ohio Revised Code would make her "really hammered."

Considering Scharf's three previous drunk-driving convictions, legal scholars might be inclined to use the words "deep shit" when assessing her case. But if the former Euclid gym teacher had hired Punch as her lawyer -- motto: "Fifty percent better lying for half the price" -- we would have argued that Scharf was simply trying to bring a multicultural experience to the suburbs.

On the day she was nabbed, she reportedly drank two bottles of NyQuil with a Listerine chaser, a cocktail commonly known as "screw" or "sizzurp." It's a poor man's champagne that originally found an audience among returning Vietnam veterans. It's produced by mixing soft drinks with cough syrup, mouthwash, or anything else with a mild codeine or alcohol content.

For a decade or so, screw fell out of fashion, save for occasional popularity with the Guys Who Sleep Under The Viaduct crowd. But it recently reemerged among inner-city kids in the South and eventually migrated to Cleveland. The reason: It's easier to swipe a bottle of Robitussin than a fifth of Jack. That's just sound economics.

So Scharf might have argued that she was merely introducing a suburban audience to the unique and important traditions of a diverse urban subculture. But she didn't hire Punch, now did she? Which just goes to show that you only get the lies you pay for.

Gloom & Doonesbury

No nationally syndicated comic strip has been more politically influential than Doonesbury. "There are only three major vehicles to keep us informed as to what is going on in Washington," President Gerald Ford once said. "The electronic media, the print media, and Doonesbury, not necessarily in that order."

Yet no strip also riles the delicate sensibilities of newspaper readers and editors as Doonesbury does. It happened again this month, when about 80 percent of the papers carrying the strip opted not to run an installment that mentioned -- gasp! -- masturbation. The Plain Dealer was among them.

"We thought it was a taste issue," says editor Doug Clifton. "The comics attract a broad audience, from kids to retirees."

Yet it's doubtful many readers even noticed. Doonesbury was far and away the most hated strip in the paper's recently completed comics poll, ranking at or near the top of every age group's "least favorites" list. Even wheezing, die-already dinosaurs like Mary Worth, Ziggy, and Family Circus fared better, which says something very scary about PD readers.

Clifton admits he was surprised that the strip is "so universally disliked . . . But the real shocker was that only baby boomers loved it. I guess it's dated or irrelevant for younger readers and anathema to older readers."

A word from white guys

Two weeks ago, Scene reported on a lawsuit former News-Herald sports writer Marty Gitlin filed against The Plain Dealer ("White Man's Burden," September 3). Gitlin's beef: For the past decade, The PD's sports department has considered only women and minorities for openings. Since Gitlin has the misfortune of being a white guy, he believes he was passed over because of his race.

The story prompted a windy discussion on SportsJournalists.com, where scribes go to rant about the trade. At last count, there were 78 replies to the original posting of the article, and opinions were definitely mixed.

"Whatever The PD's hiring policies, this guy had unreasonable expectations," wrote someone going by the name GuyNextDoor. "You don't go straight from covering preps at a paper his size to a bigger one like The PD."

Added a guy named Silentbob, who seems to have trouble thinking up original nicknames for himself: "Save for a few, not many sports editors will consider plucking someone from the Hillbilly Courier-Times. I would bet that when The PD brass heard about this lawsuit, its first reaction was, 'This guy works where?'"

But YaaySportsRule came to Gitlin's defense: "Hate to say it, but I feel his pain. I cringe every time I see a job posting that says, 'women and minorities encouraged to apply.' Makes me feel at a disadvantage right out of the gate."

Yet another writer used the opportunity to unload a truckload of PD gossip. "One of their female reporters allegedly broke down while covering an NFL game. Cracked under pressure or something," wrote someone named Junkie. "One of their (white) male reporters is said to have shown up tanked and belligerent at a minor-league baseball game."

Punch called PD sports editor Roy Hewitt to see if we could get a job showing up drunk -- "Jeepers, Mr. Hewitt, we've got years of intensive training and experience!" -- but he didn't return our calls. Which means he discriminates against drunks. The suit will be filed Monday.

Twist of faith

It's not easy saving souls. Even harder is saving those who like their souls just fine the way they are. That calls for persistence, patience, and the old bait-and-switch.

During their recently completed Cleveland outreach/conversion campaign, the evangelical Christian group Jews for Jesus distributed more than 75,000 pieces of literature, according to their website. Some were disguised as "Indians trivia games" and passed out before Tribe games. Rock Hall visitors were similarly duped, with tracts using music as a warm-up to more spiritual matters.

Punch tried to get an ecclesiastical ruling on the matter, but Jesus did not respond to repeated interview requests.

The tactics don't surprise Scott Hillman, executive director of Jews for Judaism. At "counter-missionary training" sessions, Hillman showed numerous video clips, including a 20/20 segment in which some fresh-faced Baptist kids spoke openly of deceiving Jewish friends into visiting their church. He joked that "Jews for Jesus" makes as much sense as "Christians for Muhammad" or "Vegetarians for Steak."

Jews for Jesus claims that 57 Northeast Ohioans -- including 11 Jews -- "came to faith in Jesus" during the campaign, and remains hopeful of luring in more. The website also asks believers to "pray for all of the many Jewish people who saw us at Beachwood Mall and didn't speak to us."

Do not pass Go

Add Cuyahoga County Judge Christine McMonagle to the list of people who consider allegations of insider trading a valid reason for firing one's investment broker.

As Scene reported in the recent cover story "Father Knows Best" (August 27), NCS Healthcare of Beachwood fired investment broker Brown, Gibbons, Lang after learning that the father of a Brown employee had invested heavily in company bonds. It just so happened that Thomas Berlin was making major purchases at basement prices while his son, Scott, was privately negotiating the sale of struggling NCS -- an event that was sure to increase the bonds' value.

After NCS learned of Thomas Berlin's buys, it dumped Brown, Gibbons and hired a new investment broker, Candlewood Investments of Chagrin Falls. Candlewood eventually completed a sale, but Brown, Gibbons sued, claiming it was owed a cut of Candlewood's $4 million fee for handling the deal.

But as McMonagle pointed out in her September 2 ruling, Scott Berlin kept quiet for months after supposedly learning of his father's buys. He also violated his own firm's policy, which precluded relatives from investing in companies with deals on the table at Brown, Gibbons.

McMonagle was so emphatic, she tossed the suit, believing it not even worthy of going to trial.

Cleveland Splendor

Now that curmudgeonly schmuck Harvey Pekar is the toast of film critics everywhere, Tinseltown's gaze appears ever more transfixed by Cleveland. Last month, The Battle of Shaker Heights gained wide release. The Year That Trembled made its L.A. debut last week.

Trembled centers on a group of friends facing Vietnam and other joys of young adulthood at the dawn of the '70s. Fred Willard portrays the father of a war protester, and fellow Clevelander Martin Mull is the FBI agent tracking her down. The movie, shot in Hiram and Garrettsville, is based on a book written by Chagrin Falls native Scott Lax, who also co-produced the movie.

There is no indication that the film was funded by the Chagrin Falls crime syndicate.

Messin' with the O'Jays

Ivan Williams, beauty consultant and die-hard soul brother, is starting a love train in hopes of getting those backstabbers at the Rock Hall to induct the O'Jays.

Though known for channeling "The Philly Sound," the O'Jays are, in fact, Cleveland's own, by way of Canton. Founders Eddie Levert and Walter Williams formed a group known as the Mascots in 1958 and could be found doo-wopping around the Longwood projects before later renaming themselves after Cleveland DJ Eddie O'Jay, an early purveyor of the sound.

Ivan Williams (no relation) is hoping to collect 100,000 signatures by spring to convince the Rock Hall to give the O'Jays their props. After all, reasons Williams, the O'Jays have had an indelible effect on popular music during their 40-year career, garnering gold and platinum albums, and three Grammy nominations. The trio has been nominated for induction several times, but has yet to make the cut. "According to all the criteria to be inducted," says Williams, "the O'Jays should have been among the first."

Terry Stewart, head honcho at the Hall, admires Williams's fanaticism and agrees that the O'Jays should get their membership cards. However, neither seniority nor scribbled signatures carry much weight. "The inductees are nominated and put on a ballot, where 900-odd music writers, historians, musicians, and current inductees place their votes," says Stewart. The petition "won't make much of an impact one way or the next."

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