Cleveland Scene: “Who Shot Chris Heben?”

Chris Heben cover 2

My latest cover story for Cleveland Scene magazine, published on Nov. 19, 2014: “Who Shot Chris Heben? The Strange Tale of a Former Navy SEAL and the Suburban Shopping Plaza Shooting that Never Happened.”

… With that now deleted Facebook post (the reasons for which will become apparent shortly) in late March from Akron General Hospital, former Navy SEAL Christopher Heben jumped into headlines across the country and the world. After all, there’s no more compelling story than an All-American Hero who, after being attacked in the bustling West Market Plaza in front of a Mustard Seed grocery store, hops in his Ford F-150 and chases the bad guys, ignoring the searing pain of a gunshot wound to the stomach before eventually heading to the Bath Township police station for help.

Nevermind that it was actually during rush hour on Friday and not Saturday, as Heben wrote. That was just one of the countless fungible details in Heben’s fluid version of the events, which morphed with each appearance like he was in a game of telephone with himself. Those details didn’t matter much early on as Heben basked in the glowing media coverage from his hospital bed…

Continue reading on clevescene.com

Cleveland Scene: “Father Under Fire: A Westlake Church Rallies Around its Pastor After Charges that He Sexually Abused His Adopted Daughter”

COTR cover

Here is my latest feature story for Cleveland Scene magazine. It’s about the arrests of Church on the Rise pastor Paul Endrei and his son Jordan, an assistant professor. Read it here.

Faith is a powerful thing, and the flock at Church on the Rise in Westlake has it in spades. Some beliefs, after all, cannot be shaken: faith in God, faith in their religion, or faith in their pastor, no matter what prosecutors and an alleged victim say.

That’s why, service after service, week after week, families continue to pack the modern Westlake church to take in the word of pastor Paul Endrei — simply Pastor Paul, as they call him — the church’s founder who’s out of jail after posting bond, the pastor who’s awaiting trial on six felony charges of allegedly sexually abusing his adopted daughter. Also a recipient of that faith is assistant pastor Jordan Endrei, Paul’s biological son, who at 26 is also awaiting trial for one felony count of sexual contact a minor.

“If you know the guy, you know it’s not true,” says one twentysomething member of the Church on the Rise before a recent Sunday evening meeting for young adults and teens. “More importantly, if you know her…”

He trails off in unspoken allegation. The victim here is the black sheep, not the alleged perpetrator.

“It’s unfortunate,” the man continues. “The enemy, he likes to attack us, especially when good things are happening. But we’re not worried about it one bit.”

That’s a near-universal sentiment held by members of the socially conservative church. Pastor Paul is unequivocally innocent, beyond reproach. And good things are happening, now more than ever. The church — and business — is booming.

“Attendance is up, donations are up this year — that goes to show you how much love we have for our pastor and our church,” says church elder Fred Bobel.

Pastor Paul couldn’t possibly have abused that girl, they say. The accuser, well, she’s had some “issues” in her past and has to be lying about what happened behind closed doors. When Paul and Jordan were arrested, the church identified the victim in a press release as Endrei’s “troubled adolescent” adopted daughter.

The girl, who joined the Endrei family at age 3, has a known history of erratic behavior. To church members who’ve heard about it, it’s the basis for their belief and faith that she can’t be trusted. She has always been nothing but trouble to them ever since she became a teenager.

But specific details buried in police records document what many psychologists and social workers would say are the telltale signs of a child who’s been sexually abused.

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Cleveland Scene: “Roofie Island: A Summer of Reported Druggings and Rapes on Put-In-Bay, Lake Erie’s Party Island”

Roofie Island cover 

By the day after the story was published online on Tuesday, my piece on the druggings and rapes occurring on Put-In-Bay this summer became one of Cleveland Scene’s most-read feature stories ever. Read it here:

It’s noon on Thursday and Put-In-Bay is being invaded with bachelor and bachelorette parties and folks looking to spin away from regular life with a little help from the bottle. It’s about to be Christmas in July — the island’s busiest weekend — and the hordes are starting to arrive for a few days of good drinking.

Minutes later, three late-20-something women from Pittsburgh are standing at the same spot on the bustling street, also first timers here. They’re lost — sunglasses and sandals on, bags around their shoulders, suitcases and booze in hand — unsuccessfully trying to locate the hotel they booked months ago so they can kick off the weekend.

“We heard about Put-In-Bay from other people who like to drink a lot,” jokes Kristen, explaining they have no idea what Christmas in July really entails, but it’s why they’re here for the next three days. The ends of a beer bong are popping out of her duffle bag, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

One of them is dragging the handle of a noticeably heavy blue four-wheeled cooler down the sidewalk: “Lots of beer,” Leeanne explains, “but we did put water in there for hangovers.” The other interrupts: “And Fireball and vodka and….”

They eventually find their way down a not-so-obvious path toward the hotel through an alleyway next to Mr. Ed’s, the bar attached to hotel, and Mist, a fenced-in pool bar where Top-40 remixes are already blasting loudly. “This is exactly what we wanted!” one exclaims. They heard about some rumors of druggings on the ferry ride over, and despite thinking it’s kind of “scary,” their enthusiasm isn’t dampered.

Shortly after checking in to their rooms, the group is quickly back down to the bustling Mist, bathing suits on and water bottles filled with booze in hand. The bouncer stops them and inspects their bottles — it’s a bar, after all — so the girls quickly chug the contents and toss the empty bottles in the trash before finding their way to the lounge chairs between the pool and the bar. Their first hours at Put-in-Bay have started right.

But, this summer, it might not end right.

Since May, there are have been at least a dozen documented incidents of people suspected of being dosed with date-rape drugs at Put-In-Bay bars, with no arrests. In that time, there have been at least three reported rapes of drugged or heavily intoxicated women and only once — when police came upon a 27-year-old Mentor man in the act, with several eye witnesses who spotted him tackling her to the ground — has somebody been arrested so far. On Saturdays this summer, EMS has had to regularly transport girls from the popular pool bar Mist to the hospital after someone slipped date-rape drugs into their drinks.

Put-In-Bay has a problem and the three women from Pittsburgh have planned their weekend right in the epicenter of it all.

Continue reading on Clevescene.com…

Alt-weekly award: Second place, investigative reporting

Cleveland Scene, David Franklin Cleveland Museum of Art cover

The piece Sam Allard and I reported in November about the troubles at the Cleveland Museum of Art (“Turmoil at the museum: Inside the affair, suicide and abrupt resignation that rocked the Cleveland Museum of Art“)  was just named the second place story in the Investigative Reporting category (under 50,000 circulation) at the 2014 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Awards in Nashville, Tennessee.

That’s awesome. It’s a big honor for a couple of 25-year-old journalists.

 

Cleveland Scene: “Sex, Politcs & Revenge,” the inside story of sexual harassment and retaliation by Case Western law school dean Lawrence Mitchell

CWRU law school cover

My ninth cover story for Cleveland Scene magazine: “Sex, Politics and Revenge: Lawrence Mitchell Was Supposed to Bring Stability to Case Western Reserve University’s Law School, Not Treat It as His Personal Pickup Playground.”

It’s an investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment by Lawrence Mitchell, dean of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and the retaliations of those who reported it to the university. What I found is Mitchell’s antics were well-known among third-year law students at CWRU — the class that came in during Mitchell’s first year — and that university administrators like president Barbara Snyder and provost Bud Baeslack were well aware of it, too, allowing it to continue under their watch. Mitchell and the school are facing a lawsuit from law professor Raymond Ku, who reported Mitchell’s sexual harassment to the school, and then was retaliated against by Mitchell for doing so. Read it here:

The law students who will walk across the stage of Severance Hall next week to receive their diplomas have the most colorful stories about Lawrence Mitchell. A lot of them come from the days before classes even started during their first years together.

“During orientation week that first year, the school had organized events at various bars downtown to kind of get to know everyone in the class,” says a third-year law student. “There was this one at Pickwick and Frolic, and the dean had come to mingle with the students, and within an hour he was really drunk, pounding on the bar, screaming at the bartenders. It looked like he was about to puke all over the bar and lose it.”

Another student remembers the same drunken display: “He apparently just flew in from some sort of trip. He got sloshed at this thing, telling us the only way he got through law school was his friend Jack Daniels, or something like that. And this is the first time ever meeting the students, the first impression. Already, it’s like OK, this guy is kind of weird.”

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Cleveland Scene: “A Traffic Ticket and a Bullet Through the Chest”

Greg Love shooting Cleveland Scene cover

This is my seventh cover story for Cleveland Scene magazine, about a Cleveland police officer shooting an unarmed man after a traffic violation downtown. Read it here:

… He doesn’t make it across before Montague heads to Biggins in the passenger seat, pulls out his Glock 17 9 mm gun from his holster, Love says, and then walks around the front of the truck to Love’s open window. The gun in his left hand, Montague reaches inside the car with his right, trying to grab the keys. But the ignition for Love’s Range Rover is not on the steering column, it’s between the seats; the officer is grabbing for keys but coming up with nothing.

“He’s reaching in the inside of my truck and he’s trying to turn the key off thinking it’s up here by the steering wheel but my key’s in the center console,” Love explains. “So I’m sitting back with my hands up and I’m telling him my key isn’t there.” According to the lawsuit, the officer gives up on trying to find the keys and withdraws his hand from the car.

Once he takes a step back, Montague points his guns through the window. Love’s inside, leaning back with his hands up, palms facing forward next to his head and arms pinched against his torso, he says. Montague squeezes the trigger.

BOOM!

A single gunshot bursts into Greg Love’s chest at point-blank range.

Panic… (continue reading on clevescene.com)

 

 

Cleveland Scene: “The Brothel of Bedford: The Prostitution Bust and the Corrupt Officials Who Went Down with It”

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This is my sixth cover story for Cleveland Scene magazine, about a prostitution investigation in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford and how the city’s judge, Harry J Jacob III, and law director, Ken Schuman, were eventually arrested on felony corruption charges for their role in protecting it. Read it here:

Operating above the dentist office, driving school, lawyer and insurance agency in the boxy office building in a boring stretch in Bedford was a different kind of business not included in the Walsh Professional Building signage out front with the others.

Up on the third floor was a massage studio, one with online advertisements for “the hottest rub you could imagine” from girls with names like Lola, Kendra, Rayne and Star.

When federal and local authorities finally raided the top floor of the Walsh Professional Building and its covert tenant last fall, they found not just a simple massage parlor called “Studio 54,” but a full-on brothel, a secretive den whose business “provided a menu of services ranging from nude massages to sex acts,” according to prosecutors.

Soon after, it also turned up something perhaps less surprising, at least in Cuyahoga County: corrupt public officials. The looming shadow of Jimmy Dimora is hard to escape in this working-class Cleveland suburb, after all…  Continue reading on clevescene.com…