Saturday, January 23, 2021

Former Cleveland State University employee accused of giving contracts to relatives in exchange for bribes

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A current and former Cleveland State University employee are among five people indicted in what prosecutors say was a scheme that steered more than $250,000 in contracts to one of the employee’s relatives.

Marlene Gombach approved grant-funded contracts to pay media companies owned by her son, nephew and business associate in exchange for cash bribes from 2013 to 2016, when she worked as a project manager in the university’s Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education, according to the indictment.

On Friday, a grand jury handed up a six-count indictment charging Gombach with felonies, including bribery and having an unlawful interest in contracts. She also faces misdemeanor counts of soliciting an improper payment and unlawfully using her public office as influence.

Sharon Brown, the center’s director, is charged with one felony count of conspiracy that accuses her of helping Gormbach authorize the payments.

Gombach’s son Brendan Gombach, her nephew Peter Matuszewski, and her business associate Robert Troxell IV each face a felony bribery charge.

All five defendants are scheduled to appear in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Feb. 10 for an arraignment hearing. No attorney information was listed in court records as of Monday afternoon.

A university spokeswoman said in a statement released Monday that Marlene Gombach resigned from the university in September 2016 after an internal investigation flagged her conduct as potentially violating Ohio ethics laws. CSU referred its findings to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The university placed Brown on unpaid leave on Monday while officials review the matter, spokeswoman Alison Bibb-Carson said.

“CSU has a strong culture of compliance, acted on this matter immediately and will continue to hold itself and its employees to the highest standards,” Bibb-Carson said in the statement.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office said the Ohio Ethics Commission investigated the case and referred it to his office charges.

“Ms. Gombach used school funds to fill family members’ pockets while also receiving kickbacks herself,” O’Malley said in a statement emailed through a spokesman. “They will now be held accountable for their criminal activity.”

The indictment says that Marlene Gombach, whose job included administering grants and endowments funds for web design and content creation services for the Cleveland Schools Book Fund and Lorain Reads programs, according to the indictment. She approved six contracts between 2013 and 2016, awarding more than $225,000 worth of grant and endowment funds to Focal Point Media Solutions, X51 Studio Ltd and RebellionUN Ltd, according to the indictment.

The indictment says that Brendan Gombach owns RebellionUN Ltd, Matuszewski owns Focal Point Media Solutions and Troxell owns X51 Studio Ltd.

The three men paid Marlene Gombach bribes several times between August 2013 and September 2016 to ensure the companies receive the contracts, the indictment says.

The indictment says Brown expanded the university’s use of funds and endowments to pay Brendan Gombach’s RebellionUN Ltd., and approved two contracts in 2014 that awarded more the company more than $79,000.

Brown is also accused in the indictment of misleading Lorain school officials about the collapse of the Lorain Reads program.

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