PURCHASING PROBE Salesman is felon, records indicate
County officials said they had no idea of the salesman's previous convictions.
By STEPHEN SIFF and PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- A janitorial supply salesman who pleaded guilty last month to bribing Trumbull County officials and stealing taxpayer funds has had trouble staying clean.
Barry Bonchek, a 61-year-old sales representative for Kinzua Environmental of Cleveland, was convicted a decade ago for participating in a similar kickback scheme in Streetsboro.
In 1993, Bonchek pleaded guilty to 21 counts of felony mail fraud for paying the Streetsboro municipal garage supervisor $2,650 to buy extra products at inflated prices from Kinzua and another company he worked for at that time.
Bonchek was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Cleveland to two years of probation, court records say. He kept his job with Kinzua, including an account selling supplies to Trumbull County. By 1995, he was selling to Warren as well.
County officials said they had no idea the salesman was a felon.
"If we had, we never would have done business with him," said Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien, who served as Trumbull County commissioner until this year.
Last month, Bonchek was convicted of paying thousands of dollars in bribes annually from 1999 to 2002 to secure Trumbull County's business.
Bonchek, of Cleveland, is free on a $5,000 bond. Judge Andrew Logan said Bonchek will be sentenced after the investigation into the county maintenance department is completed.
He could receive up to 18 months in jail on the charges, all misdemeanors. He also agreed to pay $27,000 in restitution, which he has done, officials said.
In a two-page affidavit, the salesman said a county public official told him & quot;never forget me, and I won't forget you. & quot; The affidavit does not identify any public officials.
Bonchek and Kinzua were the preferred supplier to Warren's water department in the mid- to late 1990s, despite the company's higher costs on some products, said city Councilman Robert Holmes III, D-4th, who worked at the water department until 2000.
Holmes said he was required to buy supplies, including spray paint and air freshener, from Kinzua, even though the city had no formal contract with the company and other venders offered better prices. Once, Holmes said he ordered spray paint from another company because it was only $3 a can, compared to $15 a can from Kinzua. But he said his supervisor, who is deceased, quickly put an end to that.
"I bought one time, then they literally chased the salesman out of the office and said we can't do it anymore," Holmes said. At the time, Holmes was foreman in the water department's meter shop, and the spray paint was to paint meters.
Some of the Kinzua supply purchases were simply not needed, he said.
"Why buy room deodorizer for a bunch of mud ducks?" he said. "The construction crew didn't need it."
The city increased its annual spending with Kinzua from $4,000 in 1995 to $50,000 in 2000, records show. Trumbull County spent $42,000 with the janitorial supply company in 2000, up from $11,000 in 1993.
Both the city and county suspended buying from Kinzua in 2002. The investigation has not at this point been extended to the city or its officials.
Mayor and former Commissioner O'Brien, Commissioners Joseph Angelo and James Tsagaris and Sheriff Thomas Altiere have all been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence in the purchasing probe.
One other vendor, Envirochemical president Barry Jacobson, and former county maintenance director Tony Delmont have pleaded guilty as a result of the probe. Officials of two other companies have been indicted.
Bonchek is different from some of the other vendors because he actually did deliver the merchandise the county overpaid for, said his attorney Michael C. Hennenberg.
"From my investigation, I have found that everything ordered through Mr. Bonchek was delivered, unlike other vendors who billed the county and, depending on which vendor, either delivered some of the time or none of the time," Hennenberg said.