Former Head Start CEO pleads guilty to bribery, fraud

CLEVELAND -- Jackie Middleton, 69, of Shaker Heights, the CEO of the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland or GEOGC, which largely oversees the county's Head Start program, made a deal with federal prosecutors Thursday morning.

She pleaded guilty to two counts of honest services fraud, one count of bribery in federally funded programs and one count of Hobbs Act Conspiracy.

She faces a prison term of 37-46 months when she's sentenced on Dec 3.

"There's no tolerance for public officials using their position to enriched themselves," explained Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. "Ms. Middleton should have concentrated her efforts looking after the people she was supposed to helping."

She admitted to accepting more than $24,000 in cash, home renovations and other things of value in exchange for steering work to specific contractors in the area in a span from 2008-2012.

Federal prosecutors said Middleton used her official position to enrich herself by soliciting gifts, payments, and contractors who did business with the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, which oversees Head Start program.

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"Middleton violated the trust of taxpayers and the people she had pledged to serve," Dettelbach said. "She padded her pocket with monies for federally funded contracts she awarded, law enforcement will continue to root out individuals illegally capitalizing on their trusted position."

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 August 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 Michael L. Collyer following an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General.

"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 D. Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Cleveland office in a written release. "Instead of serving the public, she served herself and violated the trust of those she was supposed to serve."


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