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City wants swindled $2.4 million back
City wants swindled $2.4 million back
By SUE REID
Solon Mayor Susan A. Drucker said she is in support of pursuing any and all criminal and civil charges against everyone involved in the swindling of almost $2.4 million from the city.
Mrs. Drucker's comments followed the release of findings from a special state audit, which originally was requested by the city in 2007 when complaints arose following the Cochran Road repaving project. The audit found that Solon was overcharged by almost $2.4 million by contractors Midwest Paving, Chaney Cement Contractors Inc. and MGL Enterprises Inc.
The audit, which cost the city $162,000, found that the Solon construction supervisor at the time, Dominic Bisesi, a 22-year-employee of the city, approved many of the bills in question. Mr. Bisesi was reassigned to the service department and subsequently resigned in 2008.
"This is not going to happen again in Solon with the people and the measures that are in place," Mrs. Drucker said. "It's unfortunate that this situation tarnishes the reputation of the engineering department. The personnel of our engineering department today does not reflect the engineering department of the past," she said.
"I have full confidence that we have honest, hardworking people who represent the city well. Unfortunately, that one person who manipulated the city's process digs us in a hole, because the public will lack confidence," Mrs. Drucker said.
"We believe the problem that necessitated this special audit resulted primarily from the unlawful action of one employee," she said. "This was corrected a few years ago, when new appointments were made to ensure our policies and procedures are executed as intended."
The special audit was requested during former Mayor Kevin C. Patton's administration in July 2007, when "things did not add up" following the $700,000-plus Cochran Road resurfacing project, Public Works Director James S. Stanek said.
At the time, Mr. Stanek said, the city began receiving complaints that contractors had not met the specifications of the contracts that were awarded. In some cases, quantities of material may have been less then required by the contract, and in other cases the workmanship was below standards, he said. "The quality of the project became seriously in question."
As a result, an outside expert was brought in to investigate the project, Mr. Stanek said. The city presented the issues to the contractor at the time on how it thought the job was flawed, he said. "They had no intention to correct this, so we went after their bond."
A different company was hired to remedy the problems, and the city paid an additional $471,000 to have the road repaved.
In October 2007, when the discrepancies were discovered, the formal request was made for the audit.
"The city wanted to address this issue and took it upon itself to ask for the audit," Mrs. Drucker said. "It's because of the city's actions that this was pursued."
The city also began looking at other things, Mr. Stanek said, such as the "highly excessive costs" incurred in doing emergency work to repair water-main breaks. In some cases, the city's concrete repair contractor, Chaney, was used to handle the repairs. He said that, in 2006 and 2007, the city had three or four water-main breaks that resulted in "significant dollars."
At the time, it was the city's understanding that the Cleveland Water Department would reimburse it for these costs. "We came to understand that the process was not what we understood," Mr. Stanek said. "We only get reimbursed for a small portion of the project." He said it was uncertain if those invoices were even submitted.
"This all threw up red flags," he said.
Mr. Stanek said, when the city raised questions about the Cochran Road project, Mr. Bisesi was moved to the service department.
"We were going to go through the process," Mr. Stanek said of checking things out.
Mr. Stanek said the worst part of the matter was that it appeared that the city had someone dishonest in a position of trust.
The city gave the state all the documents it needed, Mrs. Drucker said. "The auditor thanked the city for bringing this forward. It was the city's initiative to bring this out in the open."
Mrs. Drucker said the city always was asking for the report in the three years that followed the original request, but it takes time to build a case.
"No one imagined it would be that amount of money," Mrs. Drucker said of the almost $2.4 million. "Everyone found that shocking.
"It's a dark day for all of us," Mrs. Drucker said. "We feel bad we let everyone down. We will make sure that will not happen again."
Previously, one individual controlled everything, Mr. Stanek said. "Could the system have been better? Yes. We are doing things quite differently now," he said.
Now, invoices cross several desks and are seen by several sets of eyes. There are also additional checks and balances in place and stronger accountability methods, Mrs. Drucker said. Workloads also have been reorganized, and an entire construction division with added personnel has been created.
The engineer was overloaded in prior years, Mr. Stanek said.
Mrs. Drucker said that Solon Law Director David J. Matty has been instructed to pursue criminal and civil charges against everyone involved.
"I don't know how realistic it is that we'll get back the $2.4 million," she said, "but we'll do our due diligence to get it back. Obviously, we'd like to be fully reimbursed."
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