CLEVELAND, Ohio – A contractor from Warrensville Heights was sentenced to 15 months in prison Tuesday for bribing a Cleveland official.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Boyko also ordered Eric Witherspoon, 56, of Arick’s Environmental Services and Arick’s Services, to pay a $5,000 fine for bribing Rufus Taylor, the former chief of the city demolition bureau.
Witherspoon pleaded guilty to charges in September 2019 involving the payment of $3,000 in cash to Taylor for helping the contractor get on a bid list for a demolition job on Parkwood Drive in Cleveland.
That enabled Witherspoon to win a roughly $147,000 contract and a quick inspection, according to court records.
Federal prosecutors said Witherspoon paid Taylor “for non-public information about an upcoming demolition job with the city and for Taylor to use his official position to ensure that [Witherspoon] would have the opportunity to bid on that job.”
Witherspoon is the second contractor to be sentenced in the case.
Martin Fano, the former owner of ABC Construction, pleaded guilty in June 2019 to bribery-related charges involving Taylor. Fano paid $460 to Taylor to finalize paperwork more quickly and provide Fano with the necessary signed permits. Boyko fined $4,000 and placed him on probation for a year in September 2019.
Taylor worked for the city for 30 years and retired in 2018. He pleaded guilty in September 2018 to charges of extortion and bribery in a federally funded program. He admitted to taking thousands of dollars in bribes from two contractors and gave them preferential treatment for government-funded demolition and abatement projects.
The judge set his sentencing hearing for November.
Witherspoon’s attorney, Andrea Whitaker, said Taylor sought out Witherspoon.
“Based on all of the facts that we now know, it is apparent that Taylor was a rogue city official who was perhaps in need of money and who abused his power in order to take advantage of people whom he perceived to be in a position that was subservient to his own,” Whitaker wrote in a court filing. “It is in this context that Witherspoon came to be sought out by Taylor. “
She went on to say, “If anything, Taylor was just trying to shake him down again by using the weight of his official position to suggest that Witherspoon did need him.”
Elliot Morrison, an assistant U.S. attorney, disagreed.
“The crime that Witherspoon has admitted he committed was neither the result of undue pressure from Taylor nor an aberration from his usual conduct, as he would have the Court believe,” Morrison said.