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Former head of anti-poverty agency charged with fraud, conspiracy

The former head of a Cleveland-area anti-poverty agency has been charged with fraud and conspiracy. (Source: WOIO) The former head of a Cleveland-area anti-poverty agency has been charged with fraud and conspiracy. (Source: WOIO)

The former head of a Cleveland-area anti-poverty agency was charged with accepting more than $24,000 in cash, home renovations and other things of value in exchange for steering work to specific contractors, law enforcement officials said.

Jacqueline K. Middleton, 69, of Shaker Heights, was charged in a criminal information with two counts of honest services fraud, one count of bribery in federally funded programs, and one count of Hobbs Act Conspiracy.

"We will continue to prosecute cases where the public's trust is violated with bribes and kickbacks," said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

"The FBI has the responsibility of protecting the public by aggressively pursuing and bringing to justice those who place the community at risk," said Stephen Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland office. "Instead of serving the public, she served herself and violated the trust of those she was supposed to serve."

"As the president and CEO of the CEOGC, Ms. Middleton had the obligation and responsibility to use taxpayer funds to assist low-income families of northern Ohio. Unfortunately, she chose to use her position to enrich herself," said Lamont Pugh III, special agent in charge, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General – Chicago region. "The OIG and its law enforcement partners are committed to identifying, investigating and working with prosecutorial authorities to hold individuals accountable who choose to breech the public's trust and deprive needy citizens of vital taxpayer dollars."

Middleton served as president and chief executive officer of the Council of Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland. The CEOGC was organized with the purpose of serving low-income people of Cuyahoga County and Greater Cleveland. The CEOGC administered several federal, state and local programs designed to address the needs of low-income individuals, including Head Start, the Community Services Block Grant program and the Home Energy Assistance program.

From 2008 through around Aug. 7, 2012, Middleton used her official position to enrich herself by soliciting and accepting gifts, payments and other things of value from contractors who did business with CEOGC. These gifts and payments were made in exchange for favorable action from Middleton for the payors and their companies, according to the information.

Middleton solicited and accepted gifts, payments and other things of value totaling more than $12,017 from a person identified as Contractor No. 1 and totaling approximately $11,200 from a person identified as Contractor No. 2. The things of value included kickbacks from CEOGC payments, home renovation work, and payments to vendors for related supplies on her behalf, according to the information.

Middleton provided official favorable action Company No. 1 and Contractor No. 2 as requested and as opportunities arose. That included authorizing CEOGC contracts, which retained Contractor No. 2 for consulting services and which retained Company No. 1 for work, including parking lot renovations, classroom remodeling and flooring remodeling at various sites and offices administered by CEOGC, according to the information.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Roberts, following an investigation by the FBI and Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General.

If convicted, the defendant's sentence will be determined by the court after a review of the federal sentencing guidelines and factors unique to the case, including the defendant's prior criminal record (if any), the defendant's role in the offense, and the characteristics of the violation.

A charge is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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