Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Former mayor of East Cleveland, Gary Norton accused of obstruction in bribery probe

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 A former mayor of East Cleveland and his assistant were charged Monday with impeding a federal investigation into bribery and fraud.

Gary Norton, who was recalled in 2016, and Vanessa Veals were charged with separate counts of obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors filed the charges through bills of information, meaning the cases did not go through a grand jury.

In most cases, prosecutors file bills of information when the defendants are cooperating with the investigation.

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“I’m not shocked at all,” East Cleveland Councilwoman Juanita Gowdy said. “Not at all. It really makes the city look bad. But I’m thinking that more needs to be done to make our city move forward.”

Norton’s attorney, John Mitchell, said he could not discuss pending litigation. Veals’ lawyer, Harvey Bruner, also said he could not talk about the matter. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment. An FBI spokeswoman said the case is part of an ongoing investigation, and she would not discuss it.

The charges said that FBI agents and the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development were looking into allegations of bribery and fraud in the city. While the charges do not reveal exactly what the agencies were examining, city officials said the scope of the investigation involved demolition contracts.

In May 2017, federal prosecutors opened a grand jury investigation well after Norton had left office. On Sept. 17, 2018, federal authorities interviewed Norton and told him about the investigation, the charges said.

The agents instructed Norton not to tell anyone about their conversation with him other than his attorney. Later that day, Norton met with Veals and told her about the investigation and the interview, court documents show.

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Later, when the federal agents asked Norton whether he had spoken with anyone about their conversation, he denied that he had, according to the charges.

As a result, the agents “were impeded in their ability to collect additional evidence in their investigation.”

The records go into greater detail on Veals. The documents allege that Norton emailed several letters to Veals in July 2018. Norton asked her to place the letters on East Cleveland letterhead, print them and have them signed by an unidentified city employee.

The charges said Veals did not pass the letters to the city official. Instead, she forged the employee’s signature. Two month later, after Norton told Veals about the interview, Veals told another employee about Norton’s interview with the agents, according to the charges.

Veals also deleted the emails and attachments that Norton had sent to her, the charges said.

Norton had served on East Cleveland City Council since 2004. He was elected to the mayor’s office in 2009. The allegations said Veals worked for the city from 2007 to 2019.

For East Cleveland Councilman Nathaniel Martin, who has served the city for 27 years, the charges were both surprising and saddening.

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“Absolutely. Gary was a bright, young guy,” Martin said. “I supported him for mayor. But he let his ego get involved, and he made some bad decisions.”

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