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Plundering, Episode 923

An electrical company is accused of ripping off Cleveland schools.

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It's hardly a surprise that the massive $1.5 billion Cleveland schools' construction project has dissolved into chaos. Thanks to the usual suspects, it's now over budget and behind schedule. Officials are working to eliminate schools from the plan, and may even ask you, dear taxpayer, for more money to finish ["Bait & Switch," May 23].

But there is an upside: Not all of your money is being lost to incompetence. We still know how to steal.

Last spring, the sheriff's office received a tip that RJ Martin Electrical Contracting was handsomely padding its bills. According to a search warrant written by Detective Edward Roman, the scheme relied on creative math.

RJ Martin submitted change orders saying it was paying workers, say, $30 an hour, while it was really paying them only $15. The company then pocketed the difference.

Roman alleges that RJ Martin has been able to steal up to $200,000 by running the scam on six Cleveland schools. In May, detectives raided the company's Bedford Heights offices, seizing computers and paperwork. Charges have yet to be filed in the case.

RJ Martin President Paul Cunningham denies this allegation, saying the amount he bills on change orders is "a fair value." But he won't explain why. Apparently the company has its own methods for coming up with its labor rates, but you can't know about them, because that's "proprietary information."

Headlines from the future
January 24, 2011 -- At least 24,000 people died yesterday after driving directly into a radioactive mushroom cloud caused by an explosion at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant, 60 miles west of Lorain.

The blast was caused by a rusted hole in the plant's nuclear reactor that was described as the "size of a Lincoln Town Car." FirstEnergy officials had known about the problem for months, but since the company replaced its engineering staff with high-school interns last year, no one was alarmed by the situation. "Dude, we thought it was supposed to be like that," said engineering crew chief Billy Watkins, a 15-year-old sophomore at Sandusky High.

The disaster was compounded when at least 24,000 Cuyahoga County residents immediately drove to the site. Survivors told rescue workers they were merely following the county's Emergency Evacuation Plan.

The plan, adopted in 2007, was cribbed almost verbatim from Kansas City's plan. At the time, commissioners defended the idea, contending that the two cities "are nearly identical except in a lot of ways." Moreover, cheathouse.com was running a special on "Evacuation Plans for Shitty Midwestern Cities."

Unfortunately, the copied plan called for residents "to drive like hell into Kansas" in the event of a nuclear explosion. That led thousands of motorists to head directly into the radioactive cloud, where they died the death of a thousand screams.

"In retrospect, we should have changed 'Kansas' to 'Ashtabula,'" said the former head of the county's emergency management program, Melissa Rodrigo, now chief of Homeland Security in the Kucinich administration. "My bad."

Rodrigo has scheduled a memorial service for this Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. She says she'll ask the Royals to move their afternoon game to 7 p.m. to accommodate the event.

Ohio's new booze record
When it comes to quality of life, Ohio may be rapidly becoming the Mississippi of the North, but at least we still reign supreme at one thing: getting hammered.

According to the Department of Liquor Control, Ohio set a new record last year by pounding 10 million gallons of booze. (If you're reading this at the bar, take a moment to congratulate your neighbor.)

The momentous feat was a long time in coming. In 1997, we were stuck at a mere 8 million gallons, and even Californians complained that we couldn't hold our liquor. But as the economy continued to tank, liquor sales spiked. By 2004, we hit the 9 million mark.

That's when Ohioans decided to reach down, give 110 percent, and play like we know we can. Last year, we spent a whopping $672 million to break the record.

State government took home nearly one-third of that in taxes. The money was placed in a shoebox, but no one can remember where they put it.

Surprisingly, the biggest sellers tended to be higher-shelf liquors, though Ohio's average annual income for a family of four is now $37. Of the Top 20, only one -- Kamchatka Vodka -- comes standard in plastic bottles.

Why all the killing?
When it comes to Cleveland's alarming murder stats, everyone seems to have a theory.

Police blame budget cutbacks for taking officers off the street. Gun critics say lax state laws put more firearms in the hands of criminals. Mayor Frank Jackson told The Plain Dealer last week that he thought the murder spike was due to a shortage of cocaine, a theory also espoused by Bernie the Crack Dealer, who was interviewed shortly after shooting someone over a $17 debt at 86th and Detroit.

But most of these theories are little more than rank speculation. So Punch decided to convene a panel of the city's most esteemed scientists -- i.e., four guys we ran into at the Harbor Inn -- to take a more empirical look at the issue. The findings:

1) Not enough weed. People who smoke pot rarely kill their neighbors for shooting off fireworks. They will, however, invite them over to watch reruns of The Family Guy and eat Lucky Charms out of the box. A cursory check of area grocers -- we didn't actually call, but we thought about it -- indicates stagnant Lucky Charm sales. Conclusion: There's a massive weed shortage in Cleveland.

2) It's Carl Monday's fault. After the investigator exposed a kid fondling himself to computer porn at the Berea Library, perverts who live with their parents and lack internet access have been forced to find new ways to release aggression. Conclusion: Guns in Cleveland are cheaper than internet access.

3) Kucinich's hot wife. The man looks like a wiener dog with a human head, and he can score a smokin' British babe? Nothing makes men more homicidal than being confronted with the realization that they're even bigger losers than Kucinich. Estimates suggest that 59 of this year's 87 murders were due to watching the couple kiss on television.

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