CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said City Council will make no attempts to remove Ken Johnson from office because of subpoenas issued by federal authorities investigating the longtime councilman.
In an interview with cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Kelley said City Council’s rules allow for the removal of members. But he added that he didn’t know when, if ever, those provisions had been invoked and that the city’s Law Department has raised doubts over whether they could be enforced.
“I don’t want to speculate on what might happen,” Kelley said. “Any person has a presumption of innocence.”
The subpoenas were first made public this week in a report from WKYC Channel 3, confirming reports of an investigation published in 2018 by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
Cleveland.com reported at the time that the FBI’s public corruption squad was investigating Johnson and the Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corp., a now-defunct development organization that Johnson supported with tax dollars. The city cut off funds to Buckeye-Shaker Square that year.
By reviewing public records, cleveland.com also reported that council provided $168,000 in reimbursements to Johnson for more than 11 years without demanding itemized receipts to document his expenses. Johson’s expense reports stated only that he spent the money for unspecified “ward services.”
Cleveland.com has formally requested copies of the subpoenas from the city, and of the records that the city was instructed to produce. WKYC posted copies of the subpoenas online.
Eight subpoenas — six from the FBI and two from Internal Revenue Service, were issued over the last two years seeking records from as early as 2008. Among the demands:
- Documents related to transfers of federal block grant money to Buckeye-Shaker Square Development Corp.
- Donations Johnson may have made to the city’s Ken Johnson Recreation Center.
- Records showing any lease agreements and payments by Johnson for office space in that rec center.
- Expense reimbursements that Johnson submitted and records of his employment.
- Records related to Garnell Jamison, Johnson’s executive assistant, and to an Ozell Dobbins, who Kelley said helped to run a lawn moving operation for Johnson in Ward 4.
Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration did not immediately respond when asked about the records and if they were delivered.
Johnson, first elected to the council in 1980, said Thursday he has not talked with any federal authorities or heard anything about any conclusions in the investigation. He speculated their inquiries were related to the closure of the development corporation since it was a recipient of federal money.
The city cut off funding to Buckeye-Shaker in June 2018.
“They’re just doing their due diligence,” he said.
Kelley said he had not seen the subpoenas seeking documents for the FBI and Internal Revenue Service about Johnson and two other figures.
“I had no advance notice of what was going on,” Kelley said.
Kelley, Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, the majority leader, and Councilman Blaine Griffin, the majority whip, issued a short joint statement about the federal inquiries.
“We are aware of inquiries being made to the city by law enforcement agencies into a member of Cleveland City Council and we are monitoring the situation,” the statement read.
Johnson’s current term ends Dec. 31.