Agents from the FBI and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation raided the downtown offices of Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish last week.
According to a search warrant obtained by cleveland.com, they were seeking evidence of corrupt activity, extortion, civil rights violations and other crimes, most of them relating to operations at the Cuyahoga County Jail, where eight inmates died between June and December, 2018.
The agents left County HQ Thursday, after several hours of rooting around Budish’s office, with five boxes of material, two computer hard drives, an envelope of miscellaneous items and Budish’s cell phone in hand, according to a County spokeswoman. Budish provided agents with his cell phone’s password.
In an interview with cleveland.com later that evening, and in a follow-up internal memo and video to county employees (above), Budish characterized the raid as a politically motivated stunt.
From the cleveland.com interview: “I’ve worked my entire life to build a reputation for integrity and honesty, and I will be damned if I will let a political attack destroy that.”
From the county video: “I have done nothing criminal and nothing that merits this kind of treatment, so for them to come in and do a public stunt like they did yesterday is beyond terrible.”
Stunt. Public stunt. Political stunt. Political attack.
Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn noted on WCPN Friday that the County Executive rarely uses this sort of forceful language. One thing the language does is discount the legitimacy of the broader investigation, which began in the county’s IT department and expanded after revelations about the jail. It also begs the question: If the raid was indeed a political attack, who was orchestrating it. And why?
“Budish believes the search was politically motivated to sully his good name,” Krouse wrote. “[Attorney General Dave] Yost is a Republican and Budish is a Democrat represented by former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach, who ran against Yost last year.”
So the political attack was orchestrated by Dave Yost?
To what end, though? To cross swords with Dettelbach again? To get a trophy for the GOP? To sully Budish’s good name? That all seems … weird.
If a coordinated political attack did occur, it much more likely sprang from Budish’s own party, members of which stand to gain if Budish were to be removed.
But claiming that the raid was a “political attack” is just kind of a standard defense that, without elaboration or evidence, doesn’t mean much. Budish was already providing subpoenaed material, and had asked for an extension. What he seems to be objecting to is the public nature of the raid — the theatricality of it — because it reminds people of the 2008 Cuyahoga County raids. It makes him look like a criminal.
This is why Budish will not stand by and let his name be sullied. “The work we are doing is too important to let anything stand in the way of it,” he told employees.
Budish of course maintains that he has done nothing criminal, “nothing that merits” the raid. And yet, it was Budish who went to MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros the day after a County Council meeting in May 2018 and asked for the removal of the jail’s nursing director, Gary Brack, because Brack spoke out about medical conditions at the facility. It was Budish who ruthlessly pursued consolidation and cost-cutting at the jail, which cleveland.com reporters identified as the central cause of the jail’s dismal conditions.
Budish is intimately involved in the scandal. That’s what’ll sully his “good name,” if anything does. Former jail director Ken Mills has already been indicted for various crimes, and Chris Quinn himself said that if there are emails which show Budish knew about jail conditions and did nothing, it would be “very bad.”
Whether or not Budish approves of the raid’s publicity, investigators had every right to collect his emails and other materials. Whether or not he thinks he has committed crimes, others will determine if he’s a crook.
Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...