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Former Cuyahoga Land Bank Employee Pleads Guilty, Bribery Charge Dropped

Cuyahoga Land Bank workers demolish a foreclosed Cleveland home in 2012. [Brian Bull / ideastream]
Cuyahoga Land Bank workers demolish a foreclosed Cleveland home in 2012.

A former Cuyahoga Land Bank employee will serve two years of probation and pay a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty to making a false statement to federal investigators.

Kenneth Tyson entered the guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on Tuesday morning as part of an agreement with prosecutors.  

A grand jury indicted Tyson in November 2018, accusing him of accepting free work on his property from an individual identified as “M.R.” In exchange, prosecutors alleged, “M.R.” received help securing demolition work with the Land Bank.

Prosecutors dropped those charges at Tuesday’s hearing, and Tyson instead pleaded guilty to one count of lying to agents during the investigation.

According to a document laying out the false statement charge, Tyson falsely told investigators “M.R.” had never done work for him and he had paid a plumber who installed a water line on his property.

The investigation into Tyson involved numerous federal agencies, including the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program – the government watchdog overseeing 2008 bank bailout funds. The Land Bank used federal TARP dollars to fund vacant home demolitions.

“By making false statements during a federal investigation to a SIGTARP Special Agent and another federal agent, Tyson caused SIGTARP to perform additional investigation that would not have been necessary had he told the truth,” Special Inspector General Christy Goldsmith Romero said in a news release.

Tyson’s attorney, Christos Georgalis, told ideastream via email he was pleased with the sentence.

“We are also pleased that the government came around to doing the right thing in moving to dismiss all the public-corruption charges against Mr. Tyson. Today's result was just and hard-won,” Georgalis wrote.

In a court filing arguing against imprisonment, Georgalis wrote that Tyson had lived an “admirable, even exemplary, life” and that he lied to investigators during a moment of fear and anxiety.

“Kenneth’s no-loss crime — making one-off, easily contradicted false statements to federal interviewers who arrived unexpectedly at his home in the early hours of the morning — was victimless,” Georgalis wrote. “Kenneth is a life-long contributor to his community and family.”

In that same filing, Georgalis also acknowledged Tyson falsely told investigators he had paid for utility work at a home he owned. But he denied that Tyson had “shepherded M.R. through the Land Bank demolition contractor application process” in exchange for that work.

Georgalis alleged that prosecutors based their case on statements by “M.R.,” whom he called a “blatantly dishonest individual.”

Prosecutors have not named “M.R.,” but the 2018 indictment said “M.R.” operated a demolition company called RCI Services.

In a separate civil lawsuit, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office identified RCI Services’ operator as George Michael Riley Sr., alleging that he also helped run a dump in East Cleveland.

A 2019 ideastream investigation detailed how three companies connected to Riley, who also goes by “Mike,” received millions of dollars in Land Bank contracts. Debris from two of those companies ended up at the East Cleveland dump, which was shut down by the Ohio EPA in 2017.

Riley was not charged in Tyson’s indictment.

ideastream’s requests for comment from an attorney who represents Riley in the civil suit over the dump have not been returned.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.