SHERIFF'S OFFICE POKING AROUND IN GARFIELD HEIGHTS

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A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County sheriff's office confirmed Tuesday that deputies have opened a criminal investigation at Garfield Heights City Hall. Spokesperson John O'Brien declined to detail the nature of the investigation, but sources tell Scene that the probe revolves around a man who was on the city's payroll until late last year. There are questions as to whether the man, Joseph Stewart, actually did any work for the southeast Cuyahoga County suburb.

According to those sources, investigators plan to interview current Mayor Vic Collova and outgoing Finance Director Richard Obert about the ex-city worker. Stewart's role with the city was questioned earlier this year by city officials who said they'd never heard of the man, despite his listing on the city's payroll as a recreation department worker.

Stewart's name appears on a list of city workers whom the city let go in 2009. His annual wage is listed at $42,000, but Obert said Stewart did not make that much money and was considered a part-time employee. Obert did not have Stewart's file available at the time of the interview and could not provide contact information for the man. Neither Collova nor Obert could not be reached Tuesday night.

In an interview with Scene on January 6, Obert said Collova terminated Stewart on November 30. Obert was vague about the number of years Stewart worked with the city, saying only that Stewart had been employed by the city for over a decade. Obert described Stewart as a writer who produced the city's newsletters and brochures.

Stewart, according to Obert, was hired by former mayor Thomas Longo. Longo stepped down from the mayor's position last year after not seeking re-election; he had been mayor of the suburb for 26 years.

O'Brien, of the sheriff's office, said Garfield Heights Police Chief Tom Murphy requested that deputies conduct the investigation. — Damian Guevara

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