Third Ohio DOT Inspector Charged in Bridge Painting Scam

Fri November 28, 2003 - National Edition

CLEVELAND (AP) A third state inspector has been charged in a case in which prosecutors say contractors bribed inspectors to overlook poor work in a highway bridge-painting project.

A federal grand jury indicted Ralph Smith III, 40, of suburban Chester Township, this week on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and filing false reports. Federal authorities say Smith took cash from an unidentified contractor to allow shoddy work on a bridge in Cleveland last year.

Smith, a 22-year employee of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), received a $2,000 bribe from a painting contractor and insisted that he get some of the money in time for his wedding, federal authorities said.

Smith is also accused of submitting false reports on federally-funded bridge contracts that were administered by ODOT. The indictment says Smith lied about the quantity and quality of the work.

Smith, who has been placed on administrative leave with pay, would not comment.

The two other inspectors charged in the case have pleaded guilty.

Darrell Isaac, 46, of Valley City, was charged in October with lying in official reports about how much work the companies did and how well they performed. Inspector Jeffrey Burton, 36, of Lakewood, was charged with making false reports in August.

Two Ohio companies that were paid $750,000 to paint the bridges also were charged then.

Federal prosecutors accuse Atlas Central Corp. of Cleveland and Argo Contracting Corp. of Youngstown, OH, of bribing inspectors on six projects for ODOT.

The owners of Argo have pleaded guilty, and the case against Atlas is pending. A message left at the office of Atlas lawyer James Wooley was not immediately returned.

Starting in 1997, prosecutors said, contractors started giving the inspectors cash, turkeys and sports tickets so the inspectors would allow shoddy work. Prosecutors say the companies then could do less work with fewer materials and make more profit.