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CSU project manager charged with steering contracts to family

5 people indicted in contract steering scheme
Posted at 4:27 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 18:58:10-05

CLEVELAND — A former Cleveland State University project manager faces felony charges after investigators say she accepted payments from three businessmen then steered contracts to two family members and a business associate.

Marlene Gombach, who worked as a research associate in CSU's Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education, is accused of funneling contracts to companies associated with her son, her nephew, and a business associate.

Investigators said the contracts dealt with the reading programs for kids and totaled more than $255,000 between 2013 and 2016.

According to a four-page indictment, those contracts were for web design and content creation.

The Ohio Ethics Commission investigated the case. Executive Director Paul Nick wouldn't comment on specifics of the case but said Ohio's ethics laws are clear.

"The ethics laws prohibit public officials from awarding contracts in which their family members are the beneficiaries or the recipients of the funds," said Nick. "The idea is that public funds and public dollars go to the person who provides the services based upon their objective merits, and not because of any family affiliation."

Gombach's son, Brendan Gombach, her nephew, Peter Matuszewski, and business associate Robert Troxell are all accused of making a series of payments to Gombach during the three-year period, according to the indictments.

They're charged with bribery.

Sharon Brown, Director of CSU's Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education is charged with complicity.

Investigators said Brown knowingly authorized contracts and payments to Gombach's family.

In a statement, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office said Monday, "Ms. Gombach used school funds to fill family members' pockets while also receiving kickbacks herself. They will now be held accountable for their criminal activity."

Neither Marlene Gombach nor Sharon Brown responded to emails seeking comment about the charges.

Late Monday evening, a spokesperson for CSU issued a statement that said Gombach resigned in 2016, "after an internal investigation identified conduct believed to be in violation of Ohio ethics laws.

The university said Brown was placed on unpaid leave "pending further review."

The statement also said, "CSU has a strong culture of compliance, acted on this matter immediately and will continue to hold itself and its employees to the highest standards."