WARREN Probe follows allegations against new school official

James Russo maintains he did nothing wrong.
WARREN -- A Cleveland law firm representing city schools will look into allegations that the district's new business manager had questionable dealings in the past.
The firm Squire, Sanders & amp; Dempsey is investigating claims that James Russo left his position as director of business affairs in Nordonia Hills City Schools in Northfield because of unsubstantiated claims he misused his authority for personal gain.
Warren school board members received a copy of a Cleveland Plain Dealer article from December 1999, sent anonymously, highlighting the terms of Russo's departure from the job.
The allegations: The letter said the district's superintendent documented nearly 30 instances of Russo's alleged theft in office and misuse of authority.
It says Russo allegedly had district employees run his errands and make repairs on his personal car and at his home.
Russo said today that he couldn't comment until he meets with the board, and that the terms of his departure from Nordonia had to do with personal issues. He maintains he did nothing wrong.
Board member Linda Metzendorf said the state's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation performed the required background check, which turned up nothing unusual about Russo's past.
Recommendations: She added that he received several recommendations from Nordonia officials.
"Where this all came from I have no idea," Metzendorf said, "but we're certainly going to investigate it."
Superintendent Betty English was not available to comment this morning.
The article says Russo was not fired from Nordonia, but instead resigned in 1999 after reaching a settlement with the district.
That included three months' pay based on his rate of $75,000 a year, a letter of recommendation from the district and an additional three months of unpaid leave.
In return, Russo agreed to pay $430 in restitution to the district.
He was hired in Warren recently, replacing Paul McCombs, who retired in June.
Russo went from Nordonia to E.J. Williams Inc., an independent Goodyear retailer, where he served as president and chief executive officer.
Meeting tonight: Board member Lynn Gibson said the board was to meet tonight in executive session to discuss contract negotiations. She said she was sure the situation with Russo would come up.
"No one puts a lot of stock into anonymous letters," Gibson said. "I think on the administration's end, they did everything they could to check into his background. He had excellent references."

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