Friday, November 21, 2003

City turns over Empire fiasco documents to FBI

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

DOWNTOWN - Cincinnati city officials have turned over thousands of pages of documents to FBI agents investigating the failed Empire Theater project in response to a new round of federal grand jury subpoenas.

The subpoenas probe even further into how the city handled the $184,172 in grants and loans to LaShawn R. Pettus-Brown, a former pro basketball player in Japan who said he had plans for turning the 89-year-old Over-the-Rhine theater into a nightclub.

Specifically, the FBI asked for documents related to the Internal Audit Division's review of the project released last month, and documents related to Community Development Director Peg Moertl's resignation in September.

Pettus-Brown, a former Taft High School basketball standout and Soul Fest promoter, has been missing since December 2002. The FBI has a warrant for his arrest.

The documents were turned over to the grand jury the day after the City Council election. They were made available to reporters and City Council members for the first time Thursday.

One document turned over to the grand jury was a June 9, 2002 letter from Pettus-Brown to general contractor Rich Enyeart of RLE Construction.

In it, Pettus-Brown asked Enyeart to advance him the money he was supposed to get from the city so that he could promote a Ja Rule hip-hop concert in Sydney, Australia.

"My goal was to temporarily use my funds for the concert while taking $120,000 of the city's money to acquire the building and cover some operating costs and put the money back into the project when the tour was complete," Pettus-Brown wrote. That concert never happened.

The project stalled in late 2002 after city officials stopped making payments on invoices because Pettus-Brown did not provide evidence of outside financing. He later provided what purported to be a letter of credit from PNC Bank, which the bank said was bogus.


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