Mike White is back: A master criminal bequeaths his secrets to a new generation

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Mike White, schooling a new generation of kleptocrats. - AP Photo/ Marc Duncan
AP Photo/ Marc Duncan
Mike White, schooling a new generation of kleptocrats.

We may be going out on a limb here, but one could argue that political leadership in Cleveland is somewhat lacking these days. County government is a heaping dish of ineptitude, slathered with a rich sauce of patronage. And the city council recently registered a twofer — paying off a sexual harassment suit and summoning yet another FBI investigation.

With so many officials mired in avoiding subpoenas and genuflecting before Sam Miller, who will teach our next generation of leaders?

Mike White, that's who.

When we last left His Corruptness, White had narrowly escaped a federal indictment of his own, while bagman Nate Gray was sent off to prison. It seemed we'd heard the last of this mean little man, who'd retired to Newcomersville to raise alpacas.

But the sweet scent of The Cleve was too powerful for White to resist. Last year, with backing from the Mandel Foundation, he quietly returned to launch the Neighborhood Leadership Development Program. The 11-week program is designed to provide future leaders with "knowledge and support related to their area of change" — which loosely translated from Latin means "Are you wearing a wire?"

This year's session features classes on mediation, critical thinking, and team leadership. But the real attraction comes in Week Seven, when White tackles the icky stuff: ethics.

The Mandel Foundation refused comment. But other lectures are expected to include "I'm Gonna Need Another 10 Grand If You Wanna Keep That Airport Contract" and "Shaking Down Nonprofits: Youth Baseball Teams Have Way More Money Than They're Letting On."

Toxic Karma
Two weeks ago, Punch introduced you to Scott Baltusnik, the man accused of ripping off charities through his annual Mud & Grass Volley-Dodgeball Tournament.

In our previous installment, we told you how Wags4Kids, a nonprofit that provides service dogs to disabled kids, had provided volunteers to staff the drunken tourney in Richmond Heights. In exchange, Baltusnik promised to donate the proceeds, which he estimated at $25,000, to the organization, says Wags' Wendy Nelson. In reality, he pulled a LeBron, shorting the charity with a $6,000 check.

But as it turns out, Wags might've been one of Baltusnik's luckier victims.

After the story ran, complaints poured in from others claiming to have been screwed by Baltusnik. For his 2005 tourney, he enlisted Cleveland firefighters with the promise of donating $10,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, says fireman Scott Graham. So firefighters set up fences and volleyball nets, judged events, ran the beer concession, and cleaned up afterward.

But when it was all over, Baltusnik shorted them with a $2,000 check, says Graham. "We basically staffed the event for him, and he pocketed the money."

Still, firefighters believed Baltusnik's excuses, and agreed to volunteer again in 2006. This time, the fast-talking organizer vowed to raise $20,000, but handed over only $1,500. Graham estimates they put in 300 man-hours all told. "He just blew us off," says Graham. "It was very discouraging, because it was an awesome event, and it did raise that kind of money. But we didn't see any of it."

When contacted by Punch, Baltusnik again refused comment.

End of the Honeymoon
After two years of being lauded as the latest savior of our city's lovably dysfunctional school district, CEO Eugene Sanders has officially reached the end of his honeymoon.

First, he committed the cardinal sin of pissing off six West Side city council members. They say that in early May, Sanders told them that a new high school to relieve overcrowding on the West Side was a high priority, and would be built in the next phase of the district's massive construction project. Then Sanders turned around and presented a plan that shoves it 8 to 10 years down the road.

Councilman Jay Westbrook compares this to having a massive headache and being told, "I got some aspirin for ya, and you can have it later in the year . . . An implied meaning of relief is that relief is on the way."

Now the CEO is taking heat from the school board, a normally complacent bunch whose curiosity rarely extends beyond "Did anyone bring bagels?"

At a recent meeting, a faction led by mild-mannered Louise Dempsey lambasted Sanders for waiting until that day to answer basic financial questions in a last-minute handout. Apparently, this long-standing strategy for ensuring that board members can't ask probing questions is no longer acceptable.

Sorry, Eugene. Guess you're not in Toledo anymore.

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