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Cleveland Councilman Kenneth Johnson indicted on federal conspiracy charges involving reimbursements from city

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 2/23/2021 John Caniglia, cleveland.com
a man wearing a suit and tie: Cleveland Councilman Kenneth Johnson was indicted on charges of federal conspiracy involving his work with the city. © Lynn Ischay/The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com/TNS Cleveland Councilman Kenneth Johnson was indicted on charges of federal conspiracy involving his work with the city.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Councilman Kenneth Johnson was arrested Tuesday and accused of fleecing the city out of more than $127,000 by submitting false monthly expense reports over the course of several years.

A federal grand jury in Cleveland indicted Johnson on 15 charges, including two counts of conspiracy to commit theft from a federal program, aiding and assisting in the preparation of false tax returns, tampering with a witness and falsification of records during a federal investigation.

Johnson’s longtime aide, Garnell Jamison, was indicted on the same charges. Also, John Hopkins, who served as the executive director of the Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corp. in Johnson’s ward, was charged with conspiracy to commit theft from a federal program.

The charges stem from an FBI investigation into Johnson, one of the longest serving members of Cleveland City Council. He was first elected in 1980.

The indictment alleges that many of the charges stem from Johnson requesting the maximum amount of monthly reimbursement, $1,200, from Council for services that were never performed.

Earlier this month, Johnson’s longtime friend Robert Fitzpatrick pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit theft involving Johnson’s work as a Ward 4 representative.

Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer began reporting about Johnson’s reimbursement issues in 2018. The reports said Johnson submitted monthly forms to Council’s office for several years. He sought the maximum amount each time and attached information that Fitzpatrick, a longtime city recreation worker, performed services for the ward.

The charges against Johnson and Fitzpatrick mirror those reports. Documents show that from January 2010 to October 2018, Johnson attached Fitzpatrick’s false timesheets to each of the expense forms he submitted to Council for reimbursement.

Fitzpatrick “signed timesheets, attesting that he had performed ward services, when, as he well knew, he had not actually completed any ward services,” the allegations against Fitzpatrick say.

Prosecutors said in documents that Johnson and Jamison approached Fitzpatrick more than 10 years ago and asked whether he would be willing to help in Johnson’s ward.

The work entailed cutting grass, checking on abandoned properties, helping with snow removal and looking for homes that could be renovated and sold for a profit. Fitzpatrick did the work for about six weeks, but he never received payment for it.

Jamison, however, continued delivering timesheets to Fitzpatrick to sign, even though Fitzpatrick didn’t do any work, the indictment says. Jamison collected the timesheets and delivered them to Johnson, according to documents. The records show Johnson also attached receipts that showed that he had paid Fitzpatrick in cash.

The indictment says Johnson obtained the reimbursement checks from City Council and deposited them in his bank account. The filing said the object of the conspiracy “was to enrich Johnson and others,” but it is unclear whether Fitzpatrick or anyone else received any money from the scheme.

The allegations also accuse Johnson and Hopkins of steering thousands of dollars in federal block grants issued through the Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corp. to three people, one of whom is Johnson’s child. Johnson is the court-appointed guardian for the other two, according to the charges.

The funds were later transferred or deposited into accounts that Johnson held, the indictment says.

Attempts to reach Johnson’s attorney, Myron Watkins, were unsuccessful. Jamison’s attorney, Regis McGann, could not be reached. Edward Bryan, who is representing Hopkins, did not return a message seeking comment.

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