One night last fall, two Chagrin Falls cops pulled up to Pat O'Malley's imposing ranch house on Solon Road, overlooking the Chagrin River. They weren't sure what to expect as they approached the front door. O'Malley had reported a burglary, according to the dispatcher, but refused to give any details.
O'Malley -- dark-haired, 5-foot-7, late 40s -- met the cops at the door and showed them to his bedroom. He pointed to the spot where he said he'd kept a five-gallon water jug full of change.
Agitated, O'Malley told the story of the burglary: He'd gone out that morning, left his front door unlocked and returned that evening to find someone had stolen the 188-pound jug (he'd weighed it). It was the only thing missing from the entire house.
O'Malley's cell phone ringtone kept interrupting. O'Malley answered, yelling at the caller: "[You'd] better get me a name!" according to the police report. "[I'll] break their f***ing kneecaps!" he added.
The sergeant asked O'Malley if he had any idea who had taken the jug.
No, O'Malley said, but he would find out. "You could have them when I'm done with them," he added.
This crime-fighting strategy didn't exactly please the cops.
"I advised O'Malley that he should not be making such threats, especially in the presence of officers," the sergeant wrote in her report, "and also that if he had any suspects in mind that he should give the information to the police department rather than taking matters into his own hands."
At the time, Pat O'Malley was the Cuyahoga County recorder. His office's 100 government workers recorded deeds.
But that doesn't begin to explain the pivotal role he once played in local politics, or why he must have thought he could get away with making threats in front of cops.
Not long ago, O'Malley, an ex-wrestler, Old Brooklyn brawler and working-class charmer, was a power broker in Cuyahoga County. Along with his college roommate, county prosecutor Bill Mason, he led a feared faction of the Democratic Party that helped elect an army of public officials across the West Side and almost won him a job as a county commissioner, one of the most powerful positions in Northeast Ohio government.
This May, O'Malley's political career officially ended. He resigned from office and pleaded guilty in federal court to receiving obscene materials.
His sentencing hearing, scheduled for Sept. 30 as we went to press, may or may not result in prison time. But it should answer a question Clevelanders have buzzed about all summer: What kind of porn still merits an obscenity charge in 2008? And it could confirm or quiet the rampant speculation over whether O'Malley may have cooperated with the FBI investigation of other officials in county government.
The story of O'Malley's obscenity charge begins years ago, when the FBI's interest in a billboard deal O'Malley helped broker with the city of Cleveland intersected with O'Malley's bitter second divorce. Cleveland Magazine has obtained documents that show O'Malley made $441,000 on the billboard deal.
Also, the magazine has spoken with a private investigator who says images O'Malley's ex-wife turned over to the FBI included child pornography.
The obscenity case is just the latest chapter in O'Malley's wild 19-year political career -- a saga of fierce brawls, friendships with convicted Irish militants, allegations he beat both his wives, ruthless machine politics and lots of miscellaneous weirdness.
Add all that up, and you get to the biggest mystery of all: How did Pat O'Malley stay in public office for so long?
O'Malley declined to be interviewed for this story. "You don't know anything about me," he said when reached by phone in August. "I'm not going to cooperate with your story. Make sure everything you write is completely accurate." Several family members and ex-employees also declined to speak with Cleveland Magazine.
For years, voters, allies, employees and volunteers were drawn to Pat O'Malley.
"I want to like Patrick," says Jim Trakas, former Cuyahoga County Republican chairman and a current candidate for Congress. "But then he does these self-destructive things. He can be the most charming guy you've ever met or the biggest demon you've ever met. It depends on the day."
O'Malley ran for Cleveland City Council in 1989 as a gutsy populist who was smart, well spoken and full of youthful energy. He'd held so many meetings about neighborhood concerns, some already called him Old Brooklyn's "unofficial councilman." Then 31, O'Malley defeated incumbent Joseph Cannon, 65, who warned his scrappy challenger was "vicious" and "the wrong kind of Irish."
The next spring, O'Malley formed a political alliance with some friends, including Bill Mason, who'd been his roommate at Kent State University and was elected to Parma City Council in 1992. They called themselves D-2000 because their goal was to help one of their members win a countywide office by the year 2000. The group backed judicial candidates and helped elect politicians throughout the West Side, including suburban mayors. They even delved into obscure races to elect Democratic precinct committee-people -- because they knew that when Democratic county officials leave their jobs between elections, the party committee names an interim replacement.
O'Malley "was a hyper-political animal -- politics nonstop, all day long," says Trakas. He'd often try to convince Republican mayors to switch parties. "I'd get calls all the time: 'Hey, Pat O'Malley and Bill Mason came to lunch with me and said I should become a Democrat.' "
Their work paid off. In 1997, O'Malley was appointed county recorder, replacing Frank Russo, who became auditor. It wasn't an exciting job -- the recorder accepts and stores deeds and other documents -- but it's often considered a step toward higher office. And in 1999, Mason won appointment as the new county prosecutor. D-2000 had exceeded its goal.
O'Malley had much bigger plans than being a good archivist. In 2002, he saw his chance to win serious power. When Jane Campbell was elected mayor of Cleveland, O'Malley ran to succeed her on the county commission. That would have made him one of three men controlling the county's $1 billion budget and overseeing social services, construction contracts and 9,000 employees.
His rival for the party's appointment was state Rep. Peter Lawson Jones. O'Malley was the early favorite, Jones recalls.
"People feared colliding with, going up against the Mason-O'Malley machine," Jones says, "because they had won more than they'd lost."
O'Malley offered Jones a deal: If he dropped out of the race, O'Malley would support him for the county recorder job. One night, after the two men campaigned at an event at Brennan's Party Center in Cleveland, Jones says, "He was smoking some kind of Middle Eastern tobacco product, that I think had a bit of a kick to it" -- from a hookah, Jones thinks. O'Malley invited Jones to sit down and offered him a drag, as if to "establish a false friendship," Jones says, and brought up the recorder job again. Jones, who didn't want to record deeds, went home.
When O'Malley put out a list of endorsements, Jones noticed it included people who'd pledged support to him. He talked to two of them, who said they'd agreed to vote for O'Malley after being told -- falsely -- Jones had agreed to become recorder.
"He was the kind of person and opponent who would throw everything but the kitchen sink at you, whether fair or unfair," Jones says. O'Malley's populist pitch, which used Jones' Harvard degrees against him, changed with the geography, supporters warned Jones. "My campaign and I were left with the impression that on the East Side, he was saying I wasn't black enough and on the West Side, I was too black."
Jones beat O'Malley with 61 percent of the vote. To win, "You had to be willing to go to the mat, which is a place he's very comfortable as a former wrestler," Jones says. "You had to know you might lose a tooth or get a black eye."
FIGHTING AND RAGE
That isn't just a metaphor. O'Malley has a record of brawls, allegations of violence and rage-filled confrontations.
A wrestler at Brooklyn High School and Kent State University, with a soft spot for boxers, O'Malley has an almost romantic attraction to fighting. He donated campaign funds to the Ohio State Former Boxers Association and the Cleveland Amateur Golden Gloves. He also gave local Olympic boxer Raynell Williams a job in the recorder's office after seeing him fight, says former employee Ken Dowell, and helped raise money for Williams' parents to travel to Beijing to see him compete.
O'Malley has exchanged some punches of his own. He got into four fights in Brooklyn and Old Brooklyn between 1984 and 1991, three of them at bars. He fought one man, Guy Dickey, twice, punching out one of Dickey's teeth in 1985 and biting him in a 1991 rematch as Dickey broke one of O'Malley's ribs and two vertebrae. Dickey was convicted of assault after the second fight, as was O'Malley's 1989 opponent. O'Malley sued the third man he fought, who agreed to a settlement.
In 2003, police arrested O'Malley after a fight in downtown Chagrin Falls. He said he was defending his 18-year-old son, Brian, from three men pounding on his car, angry over a debt. All the men in the fight were charged; O'Malley pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and was fined $100.
When he feels wronged, O'Malley can show a rage-filled disrespect for authority. In 1992, an EMS employee said O'Malley cursed at her and slammed her truck's door on her knee at an accident scene, according to news reports. O'Malley denied her account but apologized for scaring her. Last summer, he accosted a building inspector who cited him for laying a drainage pipe without a permit. "Mr. O'Malley refused to take the citation and was trying to start a verbal confrontation with me," the inspector, Harry Edwards, reported. "Mr. O'Malley ordered me off his property and I am not allowed back."
Both of O'Malley's ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. "My husband has choked me so hard that at one time, I thought I was going to die," his first wife, Deborah Davtovich, claimed in a 1997 custody case affidavit. "Pat ran after me down the steps and started beating me with a belt. ... He pinned me in a wrestling hold, took off my clothes and raped me on the basement floor." O'Malley claimed Davtovich was blackmailing him with falsehoods to win custody and accused her of attacking him and their children and threatening to kill him. No criminal complaints were filed.
His second wife, Vicki O'Malley, alleged in her 2004 divorce complaint that O'Malley had struck and choked her. O'Malley denied the charges, claiming that she, too, had fabricated them to win custody, and that she had pushed his children and threatened him. A month later, O'Malley was jailed after his wife told police he had come to her Solon home, argued with her and shoved her against a wall and closet doors. O'Malley denied it, saying she and her brother had attacked him. He was released on bail two days later in a court hearing held on a holiday when the court was closed for other business. A special prosecutor dropped the domestic violence case, writing, "It is at least as likely that the defendant is innocent as guilty." O'Malley sued over the accusations, but later dropped the suit.
In 2003, children's services had fielded an allegation from an unknown source that O'Malley had beaten up Brian, then 17, a police report says. The allegation was ruled unsubstantiated. But Chagrin Falls police later visited the O'Malley home because his first ex-wife reported concern that her son might harm himself, and Brian told police he and his father had a "physical abusive relationship."
O'Malley is still feuding with his second ex-wife. Their weekly custody exchanges of their children, ages 5 and 7, have gotten so tense, police sometimes attend. One or both children sometimes make it clear they do not want to go with their father, police reports say. On Aug. 18, the children ran away from O'Malley's home around 4 a.m. and used a cell phone to call their mother, who picked them up, according to police reports.
A Chagrin Falls cop went to O'Malley's house this July to check on the kids after their mother reported that he had yanked their daughter away from her and forced both kids into his car. When the officer came to the door, O'Malley argued with him, told him the kids' mother was crazy, reluctantly let him see the children, then told him to get off his property and followed him to his patrol car, threatening to sue, according to the officer's report.
Rival politicians aren't immune to O'Malley's fury. County treasurer Jim Rokakis, an archenemy of O'Malley's, says O'Malley used to confront him in the county building parking lot, "getting out of the car and just staring at me, looking at me and glaring and muttering under his breath, 'I'm going to kick your ass.' " In summer 2004, Rokakis says, O'Malley deliberately bumped into him on some steps in the lot, knocking him off-balance, and walked away laughing. Security guards walked Rokakis to his car for some time afterward, confirms Sgt. Tom Bradley, head of the county building's security.
Pat O'Malley traveled to Ireland so often, it was like a second home. His overseas trips, frequently treated as a colorful Irish politician's charming connection with his roots, were well known both around the county government building and in Ireland, where a 1999 An Phoblacht newspaper article dubbed him "a longtime supporter of Irish freedom [who] has been to Belfast on many occasions."
O'Malley also embraced win-at-all-costs politics when it came to Northern Ireland -- where he was a member of the Irish political party Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.
"Deborah: Attached you will find the itinerary for our trip," Pat O'Malley wrote to his first wife before taking their oldest son to Ireland in 1998. The note (which is in the custody case file) included phone numbers for his friends Mick Ferguson in Belfast and Owen Smyth in Monaghan. "If you cannot get through, the Falls Road Sinn Fein office should know my location."
The friends O'Malley stayed with were also members of Sinn Fein. Ferguson, his friend in Belfast, Northern Ireland's capital, was sentenced to prison in 1975 for a bank robbery and kidnapping plot in which he "held a bank manager and family hostage in the operation to raise funds for the INLA," the militant Irish National Liberation Army, according to the Irish publicationVillage. He served eight years in prison, participating in a famous protest in which militant inmates refused to wear prison uniforms.
Smyth, O'Malley's friend in Monaghan, is a Sinn Fein town councilman and former pub owner. In 1982, he was arrested and charged in connection with the IRA assassination of Norman Stronge, former speaker of the Northern Ireland parliament, and Stronge's son. Smyth was found not guilty on charges of counseling and recruiting the assassins, but guilty of membership in the IRA. He was sentenced to five years in jail. The judge said he was satisfied that Smyth had been present at a meeting at his pub when the plot was discussed, and that men allegedly involved in the attack had stayed at his pub the night after the murders, but that it had not been proven that Smyth encouraged the killings, according to theIrish Times.
(Smyth declined to comment: "I haven't seen Pat in four or five years," he said. When he was told his IRA past would be mentioned in this article, the line went dead.)
O'Malley toldScene in 2002 that he was a member of Sinn Fein. For years, he kept a photograph of the party's president, Gerry Adams, in his county office.
"The Irish American community here would agree that they want a lasting peace in Ireland, free from violence, and the best way to achieve that is for the British to leave the country," O'Malley explained then. He didn't mention Sinn Fein's infamous ties to the terrorist IRA, which killed soldiers, police and civilians in bombing campaigns and assassinations between 1969 and 1997, in an effort to drive the British out of Northern Ireland.
O'Malley's 1998 visit to Ireland came at a historic turning point. Sinn Fein had just participated in the Good Friday Accord, which brought peace to Northern Ireland. Elections for a new assembly were held June 25, 1998 -- during O'Malley's trip -- and Sinn Fein won 18 of 108 seats.
Several recorder's office employees accompanied O'Malley to Ireland to help get out the vote in the first election, remembers former employee Ken Dowell (who was invited, but couldn't go). O'Malley also visited Ireland in April 1997, his custody case file shows, just before Northern Ireland took part in a British parliamentary election May 1.
After the 1998 accord, Smyth and Ferguson embraced Northern Ireland's new peaceful politics. Smyth visited New York City to ask American Sinn Fein supporters to accept the peace deal, according to the New York Observer. Ferguson became Sinn Fein's education spokesman and was elected to the Northern Ireland assembly in 2003. He died of cancer in 2006.
For years, O'Malley helped a fife-and-drum band from West Belfast travel to Ohio to march in Cleveland's St. Patrick's Day parade. The band, the Eire Nua Republican Flute Band, got its start in marches supporting a 1981 hunger strike by IRA prisoners, performs at "prisoner release functions" and is "always at hand to lend its support to the many strands and facets [of] the republican movement," the band's Web site states. The cover of its CD, Innocent Until Proven Irish, shows a masked man holding a rifle, more guns in the background and a quote from an Irish nationalist: "Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations." Photos on the band's Web site show it performing inside and on the steps of the Cuyahoga County administration building in 2005. A veteran band member thanked O'Malley in the 1999 An Phoblacht article for helping to organize its U.S. trip that year. "He has done so much for us," the band member said.
When officers from Northern Ireland's former police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, visited Medina in 2000, O'Malley joined a protest. "I've witnessed hundreds of people beaten by the RUC," O'Malley said, according to The Plain Dealer. "I've been beaten by them."
THE $441,000 DEAL
Physical conflict, at home or abroad, did not cause O'Malley's downfall. Instead, his career's end was set in motion several years ago when his involvement in a business deal attracted the interest of the FBI. No charges resulted from the billboard investigation, but it led investigators down a twisting path that eventually led to the porn charge this year.
In 2001, journalist Roldo Bartimole saw O'Malley, in his fifth year as county recorder, with several other men at City Hall. "I asked him pointedly what he was doing sitting there with a team of suits," Bartimole wrote on his blog this spring. O'Malley said he was trying to broker a deal between council and then-mayor Michael White to allow large highway billboards, Bartimole wrote.
"I asked O'Malley what he was getting in return for his brokering. Oh, of course, nothing, he said. Just a public service. No quid pro quo for you, I asked him? None at all, he proclaimed."
That wasn't quite true. O'Malley later made $441,000 on the billboard affair, documents obtained by Cleveland Magazine show.
In 2001, O'Malley helped settle a legal dispute between the city and billboard giant Eller Media, owned by Clear Channel Outdoor. City Hall banned liquor ads on billboards in Cleveland neighborhoods, then unleashed tough code enforcement. Eller sued. In the compromise, Eller agreed to buy and destroy 700 neighborhood billboards, while the White Administration agreed to back a zoning change that allowed about a dozen large new billboards along freeways.
As O'Malley helped put the deal together, he explained his motives differently to different people. Mike Polensek, then council president, got a sense of his role during a meeting with him. "He was acting like a broker, representing billboard owners or billboard sites," Polensek says.
O'Malley was a staff attorney for two companies owned by car dealer Robert Morris Jr., his financial disclosure forms show. Morris was a discreet third party who benefited from the deal. Before City Council voted to allow the new freeway billboards, a third Morris-owned company filed for permits to erect billboards in areas the pending legislation would cover.
Alarmed, councilman Jay Westbrook asked at a council meeting how Morris had gotten a head start. Attorney Paul "Randy" Phillips, who'd formed the company for Morris, said the company had leased the sites before they knew regulations would change. "We got lucky," Phillips said. But after more questioning, Phillips acknowledged they'd known changes were being contemplated.
Soon after council approved the new rules, Morris' company sold its newly valuable billboard-location leases to Eller.
O'Malley's income from the billboard affair was $441,000, documents show. That's how much money he listed on his 2002 income tax return (which is in his divorce case file) as capital-gain income from the sale of a partnership on Jan. 4, 2002. His financial disclosure lists the "P&R Partnership" as a source of income for 2002 only. Other documents obtained by Cleveland Magazine appear to show: that P&R was a partnership between O'Malley and Phillips (P&R meant "Pat & Randy," presumably), formed for "advertising cite [sic] development," including acquisition of permits and leases; that Morris signed a promissory note in August 2001, two months after the billboard deal passed council, agreeing to pay O'Malley $425,000 on Jan. 3, 2002; and that P&R appears to have sold its assets to Morris' Darrm Limited on Jan. 3, 2002. (Phillips did not return calls. Morris declined to comment.)
"I thought I did a good thing, and I don't see anything wrong in this," O'Malley told The Plain Dealer in 2002. He said the deal was good for the city and Eller.
Westbrook is still upset over O'Malley's involvement in the deal, arguing he used his position as county recorder and former position as a council member to get access to City Hall. "When there's the appearance of using your public office for private gain, I think that's when all alarms and bells and whistles should go off," Westbrook says.
A federal grand jury examined the billboard deal in 2003 and 2004, looking at possible violations of laws, including an extortion and bribery statute, according to subpoenas and a search warrant it issued. However, the grand jury issued no indictments in the matter. And the investigation is probably closed, since the five-year federal statute of limitations has run out.
Five years to the month after City Council approved the billboard deal, O'Malley jumped back into the same business, registering a new company with the Secretary of State, BJG Outdoor, with the purpose of "buying, selling and operating outdoor advertising devices."
During the billboard investigation, O'Malley was going through a bitter separation from his second wife, who filed for divorce in June 2004.
Former private investigator Paul Raudenbush says Vicki O'Malley's divorce lawyer asked him to examine a locked toolbox that she had given the lawyer. Raudenbush says he sprang the box's hinges and found two videotapes and several computer discs inside. The videos were adult pornography --no big deal, he thought. But when he examined the discs with his computer, he was shocked.
"The floppy discs had a lot of pictures of naked women, and they had some obvious child porn," recalls Raudenbush, a former Miami policeman who's now chief of security at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Mixed in with the image files were letters on recorder's office letterhead, he says.
The discs contained more than a dozen images of child pornography, Raudenbush says. One was of a naked adult woman, whom he thought looked Filipino, posing with two naked girls, ages about 8 to 12. Then there was "one picture I found particularly disgusting," he says: a black and white photo of a naked, prepubescent boy about 10 to 12, performing a sex act on an adult man.
Raudenbush says he alerted the divorce lawyer, who later told him he'd given the material to the FBI. (Vicki O'Malley declined to comment for this story.) Later, as he prepared to possibly testify in the divorce case, Raudenbush says he asked an FBI agent about the porn. "We're working on it," he recalls the agent saying.
O'Malley's lawyer in his current obscenity case, Ian Friedman, says, "This case does not contemplate child pornography, period."
The federal grand jury investigating the billboard deal twice subpoenaed Vicki O'Malley for her billboard files. Soon after the second subpoena, in June 2004, she gave the FBI two computers, another document shows. That September, the FBI executed a warrant allowing it to search the computers in its possession.
The search warrant shows the FBI was looking for files related to the billboard deal -- and for child pornography. The two computers searched then are among the three that Pat O'Malley used to download obscene materials, a comparison of the computer serial numbers in the search warrant and his obscenity plea agreement shows.
The grand jury subpoenaed Vicki O'Malley yet again in October 2004, asking for "a tool box and any and all contents thereof, including evidence relating to the possession of child pornography."
On Nov. 16, 2004, the FBI raided Pat O'Malley's home in Chagrin Falls, according to a Plain Dealer report.
"The allegations stem from a contentious divorce, and I want to make it clear I will cooperate fully with investigators to clear my name and reputation," O'Malley said at the time.
John Zoller, who represented O'Malley in the divorce case, says he does not believe Raudenbush's account. "I think you're getting bad information," he says.
Zoller says O'Malley disputed who had collected the pornographic images -- "I think with very good reason," he adds.
Zoller points to a hearing in the divorce case, at which a psychologist testified that
Vicki O'Malley suffered from a delusional disorder.
The psychologist, Michael S. Smith, wrote in a letter to the judge that Vicki O'Malley believed "a number of unfounded delusions regarding her estranged husband. ... These delusions include that Mr. O'Malley physically and emotionally abused her during their marriage, that he is involved in child pornography and child sexual abuse, and that he is a trained killer and a member of the Irish Republican Army."
Laurence Turbow, Vicki O'Malley's lawyer in the divorce case, says another psychiatric professional determined that his client was not delusional.
"To the best of my knowledge, the information I have, there isn't any question that he [Pat O'Malley] surfed the net and he would have downloaded these images," Turbow says. "There was no evidence that Vicki would have had anything to do with that." Long after the computers were turned over, Turbow says, FBI agents collected travel records and calendars from Vicki O'Malley. "I believe that one of the reasons the investigation was as long as it was, was so that the FBI could consider whether or not Vicki had placed any of these images -- and she's not the one who got charged."
After the raids, there was not a peep from the feds for more than three years. For a long time, it seemed that nothing was going to happen to O'Malley.
Two weeks before the FBI raid, O'Malley was re-elected county recorder with 55 percent of the vote.
Only months after the brawl in Chagrin Falls and the domestic violence allegations, he was still popular with voters. A solid on-the-job record, political friendships, his Democratic Party affiliation, a patronage army, name recognition and a quiet position far down the ballot all helped protect him.
Local voters also have a legendary affection for Irish candidates -- which Republicans tried to exploit in the 2004 recorder's race by putting up a challenger named Tim O'Malley, a restaurateur who campaigned under the slogan "The Good O'Malley." Pat O'Malley responded by calling himself "The Real O'Malley." After he won, he registered the "Good O'Malley" nickname with the Secretary of State so no one could use it against him again.
If campaign contributions are a reliable indicator, many of O'Malley's allies stuck with him for years, despite his problems. O'Malley's campaign fund borrowed $15,000 from Bill Mason's between 1998 and 2000, and he never paid it back.
You might think the county prosecutor would distance himself from a friend jailed on a domestic violence charge, but Mason contributed $250 to O'Malley's campaign on July 6, 2004, the day after O'Malley left the Solon jail. After the FBI raid, Mason sent O'Malley (between August 2005 and August 2007) his usual contribution, about $400 a year. (Mason declined to comment. "Bill hasn't had contact with Pat in more than a year now," said Mason's spokesman, Ryan Miday.)
O'Malley's county office was an important part of his political machine. At least 38 current or former recorder's employees had political connections, thePlain Dealer reported this April: a suburban mayor and a councilman, party precinct committeepeople, children of a judge. "Outreach" employees would spread word about the recorder's services --and name -- to community groups.
This winter, when Daniel Flanagan, father of a former O'Malley clerk, ran for county treasurer against Rokakis, Flanagan got 40 of the 89 signatures he needed in one day from recorder's employees.
O'Malley acknowledged he ran a politically connected office. "What am I going to do, pretend it doesn't exist?" he told the PD. But he insisted his employees were no hacks. "When people came to work for Pat O'Malley, they worked," he told Tom Meyer of WKYC-TV in May. "We worked, and we did a good job."
Give the guy credit: He really knew how to record a deed. On the recorder's impressive Web site, you can search for and download the deed to your own house or even the deed for your great-grandfather's house from 1905.
"When Pat came down there, the way we recorded deeds was an old, antiquated way of doing it," says Ken Dowell, his former director of operations. To file a deed, a person had to get "all these crazy stamps" on it, collect a receipt and a blue card, navigate a maze of offices then wait for the deed to be mailed back, Dowell says. Now, a cashier scans it, hands it back, "and you walk out in five minutes."
After digitizing decades of deeds, O'Malley kept his staff busy by scanning records for other county offices. The project helped him give people job opportunities, says Dowell.
"Pat was very proud of the fact he didn't grow up privileged," says Dowell. "He thought it helped him be more grounded and help regular people."
The recorder's office employs many more people than recorders in other urban Ohio counties, even compared to their populations: 7.3 employees per 100,000 people in Cuyahoga County versus 5.5 in Franklin County, 4.6 in Hamilton and 3.8 in Summit.
Having so many positions to fill helped O'Malley in another way, if you believe Cathy Luks, this year's Republican candidate for recorder. She claims O'Malley tried to convince her to quit the race by offering her a job.
"It was the last day to file," recalls Luks, the former mayor of North Royalton. People she and O'Malley both knew called to ask if she was running. She said she was. When she got to the board of elections, O'Malley was standing in the filing room, as if waiting. "He said, 'You're really not going to run against me, are you?' " As Luks filed, O'Malley chatted with others but kept watching her. She says she felt "like I should've worn my bullet-proof vest."
Before O'Malley left, Luks recalls him saying: "It's a big county. There's room enough for both of us. I'll call you. We need to talk."
They met for lunch at a restaurant in Independence a few days later. After small talk, she says, O'Malley told her about people he'd given jobs as favors. "Finally, he said to me, 'Look, you can't win this race. A Republican can't win in this county.' " But he didn't want to spend the summer fundraising. "He said, 'You have until Tuesday to get your name off the ballot. If you do that, I'll give you a job as an outreach specialist for $50,000 a year.' "
Luks says O'Malley called her again a few days later, and she declined his offer. Soon afterward, she confirms, the FBI interviewed her about the conversations. O'Malley has denied offering her a job.
The feds charged O'Malley with downloading obscenity, not the alleged child pornography sought in the search warrant, which would've been a more serious offense.
"He was charged with what we felt we could convict him of," says Bill Edwards, the acting U.S. Attorney for Northern Ohio. But he adds, "Obviously, there were other considerations, discussions between the defense attorney and investigators and us. There is a plea agreement, so obviously a lot of different things were discussed."
O'Malley's plea came two months before the FBI's July raid on the offices of two political rivals, county commissioner Jimmy Dimora and auditor Frank Russo. That timing, plus the delay in charging O'Malley and the plea deal, led people in political and media circles to ask: Could O'Malley have cooperated with the Dimora-Russo investigation?
O'Malley's lawyer says there is no cooperation. "His case has nothing to do with any other cases," Friedman says. "There is no relationship and no link to any other matter, period." Edwards declined to comment.
As O'Malley awaits his sentence, he's going through tough times. He got a job with an insurance company but barely avoided tax foreclosure on a vacant dance hall he owns in Cleveland. He has also been trying to stave off foreclosure on his house.
The day O'Malley resigned, WKYC's Tom Meyer asked him what he had to say to the citizens who trusted him and voted for him.
"I feel like I've let everybody down, and I certainly apologize," O'Malley said. "But I don't know if that's good enough -- certainly not for them, and not for me." He added, "I've never, in matters of my public life, betrayed that trust."
UPDATE: Pat O'Malley was sentenced to 15 months in prison on October 3. You can read about the case's conclusion in these postings on the Cleveland Magazine Politics blog:
The prosecutor had asked the judge to sentence O'Malley to five years in prison. Read the prosecutor's sentencing memo here
. (Warning: Includes descriptions of sexually explicit material.) Read the final prosection memo here.
O'Malley's attorney had asked the judge to sentence O'Malley to probation. Read the defense's sentencing memo here