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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Police Unit to Aid Probe of Inspectors

Cleveland police unit to aid probe of inspectors
The Plain Dealer by Gabriel Baird - May 31, 2009

CLEVELAND, OHIO — Mayor Frank Jackson's administration is breaking from city policy, giving a probe into public corruption to investigators from a police unit with a record of aggressively going after wrongdoing. Police Chief Michael McGrath has assigned Internal Affairs Unit investigators to help investigate the city's Building and Housing Department. The six-person unit -- which under department policy investigates only police -- has busted several officers in recent years on charges including theft, felonious assault, rape and drug trafficking. The assignment underscores how seriously Jackson is taking the investigation, officials said.

Mayor Frank Jackson

"The mayor has given me very clear direction," Safety Director Martin Flask said. "This investigation will be thorough, professional and expeditious, with a primary focus on thorough." Police inherited the probe from the FBI on Wednesday after federal prosecutors announced more charges against city building and housing inspectors. The FBI had been investigating the department since at least 2006 as part of a crackdown on corruption in Cuyahoga County. In April, inspector Richard Huberty pleaded guilty to 10 counts of bribery and extortion. He is awaiting sentencing. Inspectors Bobby Cuevas, Richard Kocuba and Lawrence Skule were charged with extortion last month. Inspectors James McCullough, 56, and Juan Alejandro, 41, were charged Wednesday with accepting bribes from an investor wanting a good deal on property. They have been suspended without pay. After announcing the charges against McCullough and Alejandro, local FBI head Frank Figliuzzi said the agency's findings would be given to the city to follow up. Under Cleveland police policy, the follow-up investigation should go to the Intelligence Unit, which has about 10 staff members who investigate nonpolice city workers suspected of wrongdoing. Officers in the unit also protect dignitaries, guard City Hall and drive around the mayor. Despite being responsible for watching about 6,800 workers -- four times as many as the 1,700 police that the Internal Affairs Unit monitors -- the Intelligence Unit has produced few high-profile cases. Internal Affairs will be assisted by a detective from the Intelligence Unit.

The Internal Affairs Unit is led by Lt. James Muhic, an experienced, even zealous investigator who worked on the FBI's public-corruption task force from 2002 to 2005. McGrath put Muhic in charge of Internal Affairs in 2006. The following year, the department disciplined more officers as a result of Internal Affairs investigations than in any year going back to at least 2000. Last year, FBI Director Robert Mueller honored Muhic for his work on the investigation of former Cleveland police officer Zvonko Sarlog, who was convicted of money laundering and cocaine charges in 2007. Internal Affairs, along with the Overtime Review Unit and the Inspections Unit, is part of the Police Department's Integrity Control Section, which reports directly to the chief.

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