Charges loom against bridge owner

BENWOOD – U.S. District Judge Algenon L. Marbley Tuesday set a criminal contempt hearing for Bellaire Bridge owner Lee Chaklos after learning Chaklos apparently failed to disclose that there are $1.5 million worth of liens against the span, according to lawyer Dan Guida.

Guida represented the city of Benwood at a mediation hearing before Marbley on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.

The criminal contempt hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 10, court officials with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio confirmed. They said an official order is expected to be filed by the judge later this week, which will provide more details regarding the reason for the hearing.

Chaklos said he was “not at liberty to say anything about the case,” and referred all comment to Benwood officials.

Guida said Chaklos will have to show why he shouldn’t be held in criminal contempt. The judge also could refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution, he added.

Guida said during Tuesday’s mediation hearing, he produced documents to the court showing there were three separate liens against the bridge totaling $1.5 million.

He declined to discuss specifics about the liens, but said they were filed by groups who had invested in the bridge with Chaklos more than two years ago with the intent of making a profit on the sale of the scrap metal from the bridge.

“He didn’t tell me about them, or the court,” Guida said.

Had Chaklos begun the project and not been able to complete it, money from an insurance bond would have gone first to the three entities with liens against the structure, Guida said. And Benwood would have been fourth on the list to get any money that was remaining.

Benwood had sought a $1 million performance bond from from Chaklos and his company, Delta Demolition, as a condition of a permit needed to begin demolition of the span. Chaklos co-owns the bridge with his wife, Krystal Chaklos, of KDC Investments, and insurance companies were said to be reluctant to insure a project in which the contractor and bridge owner were in the same family, according to Guida.

Earlier this year, Benwood dropped its request to a $500,000 cash bond, which Chaklos also did not post.

Marbley took notice of many factors in the case prior to ordering the criminal contempt hearing, Guida added. One of these was that Chaklos has had 16 listed addresses in the past eight years, he said.

Also during Tuesday’s mediation hearing, Marbley stopped the continuing accumulation of fines against Chaklos until the date of the criminal contempt hearing.

A court order on April 1 had directed Chaklos to pay the court a fine of $4,000 no later than April 12 for not paying past fines assessed by the court for non-compliance by the ordered date. Additional fines of $1,000 per day were to begin on April 15 if the earlier fines continued unpaid, and there are no filings indicating that any money was paid to the court. In addition, Chaklos faces another $1,000-a-day fine for not securing the needed $1 million performance bond by June 20.

Guida said Chaklos and his attorney, Jeremy Domozick of Virginia Beach, Va, were present at the mediation hearing, which lasted more than three hours.

Also representing Benwood were Mayor Ed Kuca, Police Chief Frank Longwell and City Attorney Eric Gordon.