Former councilman acquitted in corruption case

by Melissa Martin

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Russo has disposed of felony corruption charges levied against former Brecksville Councilman John “Jack” Petsche, who voted to fund the construction of the city police station, a project in which his company was a subcontractor.

Russo said prosecutors did not present enough evidence to prove that Petsche committed a crime.

The trial, which began March 14, came nearly three years after a grand jury indicted Petsche on three counts of having an unlawful interest in a public contract and one count of attempting to have an unlawful interest in a public contract.

In light of the allegations, Petsche was removed from office in July 2020, and his case was forwarded to the Ohio Ethics Commission for review. Daryl Kingston was appointed by council to fill the remainder of Petsche’s term and elected to a new term last fall.

The indictment was based on Petsche voting on at least three matters regarding the funding of a contract involving a construction company in which he had a business interest during his time in office. It was also alleged that Petsche failed to disclose the nature of that relationship to the city until after his company had been paid.

City records show Brecksville had a three-year contract with Panzica Construction in 2014 to build a new police station. In 2017, Panzica hired Petsche’s company, USA Roofing, as a subcontractor.

Petsche was elected to council in November 2017 and sworn in Jan. 2, 2018. In April and May 2018, council unanimously voted to issue $2.5 million in bonds for the project, with Petsche casting affirmative votes both times. USA Roofing completed the work in June 2018, and the city paid Panzica $130,000 for the roofing work.

“The defendant had every opportunity to tell everybody, ‘Hey I put the roof on,’” Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez said during the trial. “And he did not.”

Defense attorney Paul Daiker pointed out that Mayor Jerry Hruby and then-council President Mike Harwood previously worked with Petsche and USA Roofing, adding that Hruby personally approved the contract that listed USA Roofing as a subcontractor in September 2017, four months before Petsche joined council.

When questioned on the stand, however, Hruby said he was uncertain whether anyone on council reviewed the contract or made the connection.

In pretrial court filings, Petsche’s team of four attorneys argued that Petsche, a Democrat, was the victim of political retribution as Hruby and the majority of Brecksville’s council members are Republicans. They also pointed out in Hruby’s cross examination that allegations against Petsche were forwarded to the Ohio Ethics Commission four days after Petsche publicly criticized the administration and fellow council members over council’s decision to use more than $600,000 to pay sewer bills for residents of a wealthy subdivision.

Hruby denied the allegations, testifying the two matters were unrelated.

Daiker also noted in pre-trial filings that the council meeting in which Law Director David Matty made the details of Petsche’s vote public happened to occur on the same day Petsche filed petitions with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections announcing his candidacy in the mayor’s race.

The filings also contend that Petsche did not attempt to conceal his involvement in the project or his relationship to USA Roofing because he believed it was common knowledge. The former councilman also did not believe he was doing anything wrong, his attorneys wrote.

Because Petsche waived his right to a jury trial, Russo rendered the verdict. Before closing arguments were made March 16, Russo granted Petsche’s attorney’s request to acquit him on charges of having and attempting to have an unlawful interest in a public contract. ∞