CLEVELAND, Ohio — Brecksville Mayor Jerry Hruby testified Monday in the trial of former councilman Jack Petsche that he asked the Ohio Ethics Committee to investigate Petsche for voting on two ordinances to stop construction to fund a new police station when his roofing company was a subcontractor for the project.
Hruby said he was “stunned” to discover Petsche’s roofing company, USA Roofing, was doing the work in early 2018, but he chose not to speak to Petsche about it. Instead, he said, Justice Director David Matty urged Hruby to refer Petsche to the Ethics Committee in August 2018 for a possible criminal investigation.
However, one of Petsche’s attorneys, Paul Daiker, pointed out that both Hruby and then-council president Mike Harwood had previously worked with Petsche and USA Roofing, and that Hruby personally approved the contract listing USA Roofing as a subcontractor in September 2017 was – four months before Petsche joined the Council.
Hruby said he didn’t look at the contract right away. He also said he wasn’t sure if anyone on the council checked it or made the connection.
Hruby, who has been Mayor of Brecksville since 1987, testified for almost four hours on the first day of Petsche’s trial on charges of unlawful interest in a public contract. The fourth-degree felony charge carries a sentence of six to 18 months in prison. Probation is also possible.
Petsche waived his right to have his case tried by a jury. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Russo will rule at the end of the trial.
A grand jury indicted Petsche on June 9, 2019. The charges stem from his votes for spending $2.5 million to complete construction of a new police station while his company, USA Roofing, was a subcontractor on the project. Both measures were approved unanimously.
Petsche is also accused of attempting to have an unlawful interest in a public contract, a fifth-degree felony for making an offer after taking office to work as a roofing subcontractor for the city’s project to build a new aquatic center.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys do not dispute most of the facts.
The city agreed in 2014 to hire Panzica Construction as general contractor in a contract that gave it discretion to hire whatever subcontractors it wanted in exchange for the company taking on the construction risks. At the same time, the city agreed to fund the project by issuing $8 million in bonds.
Petsche offered to put on the roof for $154,000, and Panzica chose his company as a subcontractor in 2017. Petsche was elected to the council in November of the same year and was sworn in on January 2, 2018.
The council voted to issue $2.5 million in bonds and debentures in April and May 2018 in anticipation of the maturity of the original $8 million bond, and Petsche voted in favor of both.
USA Roofing completed the roof in June 2018, and the city paid Panzica $130,000 for the roofing work.
Cuyahoga County Assistant Attorney James Gutierrez said in his opening statement Monday that Petsche has attended dozens of council discussions about the project without mentioning that USA Roofing is working on it.
“The defendant had every opportunity to tell everyone, ‘Hey, I put the roof on,'” Gutierrez said. “And he didn’t.”
Gutierrez also pointed out that the contract was signed by a representative of Panzica Construction only after Petsche was sworn in on January 8, 2018.
Daiker and Petsche’s other attorneys — Michael Lear, Adam Brown and Larry Zukerman — waived their right to an opening statement, opting instead to contact Russo before presenting their case.
Petsche’s attorneys argued in the filing before the trial that Petsche was the victim of political retaliation and selective criminal prosecution. Petsche is a Democrat, while Hruby and the majority of Brecksville council members are Republicans. Petsche also led the 2011 “Move to Amend” ballot initiative in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that determined that corporate political contributions qualify as free speech.
Hruby and the city council opposed the initiative, which called for city officials to notify lawmakers that Brecksville citizens supported a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision and institute public hearings every two years for citizens to air their displeasure be able to express the role of money in politics.
During cross-examination of Hruby, Daiker pointed out that Hruby wrote his letter to the Ohio ethics committee four days after Petsche criticized the administration and fellow council members in news stories about the council’s decision to charge more than $600,000 to pay sewer bills for the Residents of a wealthy subdivision after the county discovered they underpaid residents for years.
Hruby testified that the two issues were unrelated.
Daiker also pointed out that the city council meeting where Matty released USA Roofing and Petsche’s votes was held on the same day that Petsche petitioned the Election Committee to run against Hruby for mayor.
Petsche acknowledges that he owns USA Roofing, which subcontracted the roof for the police station project, voted for the city to issue $2.5 million in promissory notes and bonds to complete the project, and attempted to a To submit a bid as a subcontractor for the city’s new water center.
Petsche’s attorneys argued that he took no steps to hide his involvement in the project or his relationship with USA Roofing because he believed it was common knowledge. He also does not believe that he is doing anything wrong, his lawyers wrote in files.
Petsche and USA Roofing donated the roof of the city’s Safety Town facility, and he wore a USA Roofing shirt to the 2018 grand opening. And USA Roofing was named in documents submitted to the city for accounting. Also, in early 2019, he submitted and signed his name on a form registering USA Roofing to perform his own work in the city of Brecksville.
Hruby also testified that he and Justice Director Matty reported to the council on the Petsche investigation at an executive meeting in February 2019, six months before the council meeting, when Petsche’s work on the police project was released. Several council members said during the meeting that they were unaware that USA Roofing was a subcontractor to the police project.