- Sam Allard / Scene
- Joe Cimperman gets another big sendoff at Monday's caucus. McCormack (L), says he has big shoes to fill.
Former Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman was sentenced Tuesday afternoon to 12 months of probation and 100 hours of community service for 26 misdemeanors.
Cimperman had previously plead guilty to all 26 counts, stemming from his votes on city contracts that went to LAND Studio, formerly ParkWorks. The popular local design firm employed his wife, Nora Romanoff, and counted Cimperman among its board members.
Cimperman will also pay a $10,000 fine and court costs, per an agreement with the Auditor of State's Office.
Judge Michael Russo sentenced Cimperman to 12 months in county jail, (6 months for each count, all but two of which would be served concurrently), but suspended the jail time. Cimperman will have to report monthly as part of his probation.
Russo said that Cimperman's career of public service and his contributions to making the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County more vibrant, to say nothing of his community support, outweighed his "regrettable lapse in judgement."
"I hope you emerge from this with a better understanding of yourself and respect for the community," Russo said.
In a statement, Cimperman took full responsibility for his actions. He said that he was embarrassed and ashamed and has woken up every day regretting those votes.
"This is not who I wanted to be," Cimperman said. "This is a cautionary tale, one that I replay over and over in my head... Your honor, I hope you understand how sorry I am. I humbly apologize."
Cimperman's lawyer, Roger Synenberg, argued that neither Cimpeman nor his wife personally profited from his votes and that not a single one of the votes was deciding. In fact, all 26 were unanimous. Synenberg also referenced the high praise from elected and community members and asked Judge Russo to consider the price that Cimperman and his family have already paid in public humiliation.
Stephanie Anderson, speaking on behalf of the state, argued that while Cimperman may not have received tangible benefits, Nora Romanoff arguably did. Her salary increased from around $53,000 in 2006 to more than $125,000 in 2016. Anderson said that the public contracts on which Cimperman voted must be considered part of Romanoff's "body of work," a characterization to which Synenberg objected. Synenberg also stressed that Romanoff's salary increased so significantly because she went from part-time to full-time status.
Anderson argued that while LAND Studio, and Cimperman himself, have provided benefits to Cleveland — "it's undisputed," she said — the court must dole out a punishment that reflects the seriousness of public corruption. She also said that there may have been other companies that might have liked to bid on the contracts in question but were denied the opportunity because of the city's clear preference.
"When City Council goes in on completely unanimous votes on 26 separate occasions, that's a deterrent for innovation in the City of Cleveland," Anderson said. "That's why we need to send a message that corruption in public service is unacceptable."
Russo, in his sentencing remarks, said that Cimperman's corruption was not of the same "breadth or scope" of other cases in recent Cuyahoga County memory.
The courtroom was packed with Cimperman supporters, including current councilman and Cimperman replacement Kerry McCormack, Council President Kevin Kelley, and Ward 15 Councilman Matt Zone. W. 25th Street restaurateur Sam McNulty was also present.