The Feds Are Examining A County Deal Involving Forest City

Is It Miller Time? 

The Feds Are Examining A County Deal Involving Forest City

When FBI agents swooped into the county administration building last week, one of their top priorities was to confiscate documents related to the ongoing Juvenile Justice Center construction project, according to the search warrant. Details of the deals that led to the placement of the new juvie jail and courthouse, at East 93rd and Quincy, are full of political favors and opportunism, but no one has benefited more than Sam Miller and Forest City.

A quick recap (from the October 2006 Free Times story "Tainted"):

In 1997, the Cleveland Fire Department and the sewer district discovered toxic chemicals at the site. Scrap thieves had disassembled an electrical transformer from the factory that once stood there, causing PCBs to leak into the soil, where they mixed with decaying drums of buried oil waste. Soil tests revealed high concentrations of a chemical called Aroclor 1260, a substance known to cause miscarriages and brain damage in children (both of which had been on the rise in the area, residents contended). Mayor Mike White called the site "the worst environmental hazard in the city."

In 1999, Sunrise Land Company, a little-used subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, bought most of the parcels at 93rd and Quincy for $383,571 at public auction. Co-chairman of Forest City at the time was self-made local real estate magnate Sam Miller, who, according to federal documents that were leaked to Scene in 2005, met routinely with Mike White and aide Nate Gray at the Ritz-Carlton during White's reign. (Gray was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2005 for his role in bribing East Cleveland's mayor and other public officials.)

Shortly after Forest City's purchase, White suggested that the county build the new juvenile courthouse on the property, even though it was not one of the sites recommended by a search committee and even though the PCBs had still not been cleaned up.

In early 2000, then-county commissioners Timothy McCormack, Jane Campbell and Jimmy Dimora approved the purchase of the land from Forest City for $2.75 million. Strangely, one of the parcels that the county agreed to purchase from Forest City on February 29 was not actually purchased by Forest City until the next day. And the deal was contingent on an environmental cleanup, which apparently never happened.

The sale became official in August 2000. Since then, the county has spent $10 million cleaning up a site that was already supposed to be clean. Three million of that was from state grants; $350,000 was federal money.

Independence Excavating was hired to haul away the bad soil. White's associate Ricardo Teamor told the FBI that Gray once claimed that Independent Excavating did free work on Mayor White's Newcomerstown alpaca farm in exchange for city projects. Owners of Independence Excavating have denied this.

In 2004, the Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation failed to advertise a public forum at which residents could have objected to the juvie-center plan. No one attended. FRDC is run by former White staffer Vickie Eaton Johnson.

In 2006, the Ohio EPA issued Cuyahoga County commissioners a "Covenant Not to Sue," which allowed construction on the project to begin, even though a portion of the land - roughly 50 feet by 80 feet - remains contaminated (this section is not scheduled for further cleanup and will be fenced-off from pedestrians when the courthouse is completed). Don't worry, says county administrator Lee Trotter. "The chemicals are locked in shale, so they won't go anywhere."

Miller, White, Dimora and the rest might soon be wishing that documents pertaining to the deal were equally inaccessible. - James Renner

HIGH-MINDED DEBATEGrass activists are all abuzz lately about true debate - words and all! - on Capitol Hill over the reform of federal marijuana laws. Aaaaaand exhale. What?

It's true: Not only are Congressmen Barney Frank (D-Kennedy Country) and Ron Paul (R-Bush Country) tag-teaming in support of a federal amendment to decriminalize "small" amounts of marijuana (three and a half ounces), but key members of the Congressional Black Caucus - Representatives Barbara Lee of California and William Lacy Clay, Missouri - have also lent their heft to the push.

With real hearings taking place on the change - called the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008 - and a surge in press coverage, it's as if the nation is hankering for another Age of Aquarius or something. Or at least another Age of Reason.

"It's not a groundswell, but it's certainly interesting to see," says Ed Orlett of Drug Policy Alliance-Ohio in Columbus.

Lee testified that she comes from one of 12 states that have legalized medical cannabis, only to watch as the feds raid, arrest and charge cultivators, distributors and doctors who legally grow, sell and prescribe the drug, widely accepted to treat a variety of maladies. This is akin to Dad telling the kids they can't go outside, Mom telling them they can, and then Dad going and beating them all the way home just to show his authority.

Frank testified, "What we've had is, particularly under this administration, the spectacle of people [calling] for limited government and states' rights sending federal law enforcement in to prosecute people who've used medical marijuana in conformance with their own state's laws. This [bill] would put an end to that practice."

But that's just the bud that broke the fragile stem. Frank, who smokes cigars but says he tells anyone who asks that they shouldn't pick up the habit, says it should be up to individuals to decide whether watching Adult Swim is better with or without tetrahydrocannabinol. We've tested the theory ourselves and the answer is: It is.

"I don't think it's the government's business to tell you how to spend your leisure time," adds Frank.

The change would end unnecessary disparities and despair too. Of the 830,000 people arrested last year for marijuana offenses, about 90 percent were charged with personal-use possession, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. And go figure: A majority of those arrested are African American. That can lead to limited options for acceptance to and funding for higher education, food stamps, public housing, job placement and, of course, overall mojo.

The government, noting how most marijuana offenders don't end up behind bars, continues to defend its stance. Still a Schedule I controlled substance like cocaine and angel dust, marijuana has "a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use," attests the Office of National Drug Control Policy, presumably with a straight face. What they mean to say is, weed has a high potential for damaging the tax revenues dependent on the brisk manufacture and sale of alcohol.

So drink up and drive home blindfolded, America. It's your patriotic duty. - Dan HarkinsBALLET ROCKSOn Friday and Saturday (August 8-9), Cleveland's GroundWorks DanceTheater will perform at the conclusion of Akron's Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, which brings art to the masses, in a cool setting and on the cheap. The unique festival is a cornerstone of the Rubber City's slim cultural cache. Established in 1975, it presents free ballet and dance programs on outdoor stages at Akron parks every summer - this week's show takes place at the Glendale Cemetery. If there is a comparable program in another city, you can bet Akron's is the only ballet in the world where the crowd applauds the tattooed guy who sweeps the floor between numbers.

Drawing crowds of 200-plus, the festival welcomes toddlers, families, blue-hairs and a surprising share of the same folks who flock to downtown Akron's Lock 3 Live to watch ZZ Top tribute acts and Loverboy. Traditional stuff - you know, dancers in red costumes pirouetting to Russian classical music - inspires the occasional standing O. But Akron's masses are a progressive lot.

At the first of this year's sessions, the audience sat rapt as San Francisco repertory Company C performed a stunning rendition of David Grenke's "Vespers." Set to Tom Waits' "Tom Traubert's Blues" (the "Waltzing Matilda" song), the narrative dance presents a man trying to coax his dead lover back to life. The best-received pieces are similarly nontraditional ones that blur the line between dance, ballet and generally astounding physical performance.

To give future fests the biggest possible bang and keep the crowds coming, we humbly offer the following suggestions to really push the envelope:

1) Invite Ballet Deviare, the New York City ballet company that performs eclectic choreography to heavy-metal music.

2) Present original choreography for selections from Meat Loaf's first two Bat Out of Hell albums.

3) Combine ballet with another physically demanding spectacle: professional wrestling. Imagine a male dancer gracefully lifting a ballerina high above his head, then powerslamming her to the floor below - only to receive sudden reprisal in the form a flying dropkick from the wings.

4) Adapt the climactic battle scene from Conan the Barbarian, in which Conan's small group of warriors fight off an entire horde, complete with the pseudo-symphonic battle music.

5) Bring back that janitor dude. - D.X. FerrisWE WANT TO BELIEVEDid an article that appeared last year in the Free Times inspire the new X-Files movie?

In march 2007, Free Times brought you an in-depth profile of Dr. Robert J. White, a charming local retired neurosurgeon who experimented with head-transplant techniques at MetroHealth Medical Center in the '60s and '70s. Dr. White and his colleagues in Cleveland successfully transplanted the head of a rhesus monkey onto the body of another in 1970.

"Did it work?" he said. "Let me tell you something. The damn thing tried to bite me when it woke up."

One of Dr. White's influences was Russian scientist Vladimir Demikhov, who once transplanted a puppy's upper torso onto the back of an adult dog. The puppy lived for several days, at times lapping milk out of a saucer held to its mouth.

A couple of weeks after the story appeared in Free Times, writer Frank Spotnitz, who penned many episodes of the X-Files and shares writing credit with director Chris Carter for the new movie, flew to Cleveland and visited with Dr. White to talk about his work. Being unapologetic X-Files fans ourselves, we hunted down Spotnitz's assistant, who assured us that the visit had nothing to do with the plot of the X-Files film. We smelled a conspiracy. After all, wasn't it Spotnitz who wrote the famous line, "Trust no one"?

Sure enough, head transplantation figures prominently in The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Mulder is even attacked by a two-headed dog.

No worries, Mr. Spotnitz. The only reason we wrote the article about Dr. White in the first place is because it sounded like an episode of The X-Files. Now, we have some ideas for the next movie, and they're really good, but we can only tell them to Gillian Anderson. In person. Preferably at an island resort with a swim-up bar … - Renner

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