Posted on September 1, 2004

Onunwor, Still Jailed, To Quit As Mayor

John Caniglia and Thomas Ott, Plain Dealer (Cleveland),, September 1, 2004

East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor will resign, just days after a federal jury convicted him of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors.

Onunwor will submit a written resignation to the city within a few days, his attorney, John Pyle, said. A judge refused to release Onunwor from jail Tuesday pending his sentencing Nov. 24 on corruption charges.

“The community has suffered enough,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory White.

Under the city’s charter, Council President Saratha Goggins is in line to become the city’s next leader. Council’s Executive Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. today.

U.S. District Court Judge James Gwin cited Onunwor’s risk of fleeing, as he has family in Nigeria. Authorities took Onunwor’s passport this spring, but they expressed fear that he could still leave the country.

The judge also told attorneys during a brief hearing that the risk would increase with the possibility of a lengthy prison term.

Prosecutors said Onunwor, 46, will probably be sentenced to about five years in prison but could face as much as 15 years depend ing on how the judge inter prets federal sentencing guidelines. Onunwor will remain in Lake County Jail until sentencing, U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott said.

Defense attorney Pyle said Onunwor is not a flight risk, as he has a family here. The mayor has two children with his wife, Pamela, and two who live outside his home.

Pyle said Onunwor has known about the investigation since March 11, 2003, when federal agents took an envelope filled with $700 from his coat pocket. But the mayor has not bolted, Pyle said.

Goggins, 53, said she will run for mayor in East Cleveland, one of Ohio’s poorest communities, next year.

“It wasn’t something I planned to do,” she said Tuesday. “But it is something I can do, and I’m not going to run from it.”

Council made Goggins its president just three months ago, when Mildred Brewer switched her allegiance to help dump then President O. Mays by a 3-2 vote.

Goggins is an outreach worker who makes public appearances on behalf of Cuyahoga County Recorder Patrick O’Malley, a Democrat.

Pyle said Onunwor can appeal the judge’s decision. But by the time an appeal is heard by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it would be beyond the time of Onunwor’s sentencing.

Onunwor showed little emotion after Gwin’s decision. Others, however, vented. Michelle Cook, who has a 15-year-old daughter with Onunwor, said the mayor would not bolt to avoid prison.

“He’s a loving father, a supportive person, someone who wanted to help the community,” Cook said.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Dettelbach and Benita Pearson portrayed Onunwor differently. They said he had failed to pay child support, forcing authorities to garnish his $65,000-a-year salary.

During the mayor’s weeklong trial, prosecutors said Onunwor had failed to report as taxable income nearly $50,000 that contractors had paid him. Authorities said longtime businessman Nate Gray had given Onunwor $500 to $1,000 a month since 1995.

Gray has not been charged, and he could not be reached Tuesday. He has repeatedly declined to discuss the case.

According to testimony, two contractors paid Gray as a consultant to help the businesses work with the city of East Cleveland.