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East Cleveland community leaders demand answers in stolen city money case

Posted at 9:41 PM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-16 23:13:26-05

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Some East Cleveland residents and community leaders are demanding answers in the unsolved robbery of nearly $18,000 in city cash and checks back in Sept. 2018.

Juanita Gowdy, Ward 2 East Cleveland Councilwoman elect, told News 5 she's calling for a full investigation after municipal court clerk Laura Smith was charged with three counts of allegedly making false statements to police about the robbery.

Gowdy is wondering why East Cleveland Municipal Judge William Dawson allowed Smith to drive all that money to the bank in the first place.

“I’m definitely calling for a full investigation,” Gowdy said.

“Judge Dawson should come out and give us some kind of report of what actually happened.”

“We have residents who are very concerned, and I love Judge Dawson, but he still owes us an apology and needs to step up.”

Smith was arrested by FBI agents inside the judge's chambers on Sept. 13.

Smith is accused of lying to agents investigating her claims that she was robbed outside an East Cleveland bank in September 2018.

According to a police report, Smith said she was robbed by an unknown man at gunpoint. Investigators say she was getting out of her Jeep to make a deposit for the court, when the robber took three envelopes containing the city funds.

But East Cleveland Police say Smith's story didn't match what investigators saw on surveillance video and because she works for the court, the case was turned over to the FBI.

According to the federal indictment unsealed after Smith's arrest, the problems with her story continued.

Agents said video showed Smith stop at a McDonald's on her way to the bank, despite her claims that she drove straight from the court to the bank to make the deposit.

Investigators also said she lied when she claimed that she was not on her cell phone while driving to the bank. According to the indictment, cell phone records showed Smith used her cell phone for about 15 minutes as she traveled.

East Cleveland community activist Justyn Anderson told News 5 he believes Dawson put Smith's safety in danger when he allowed her to drive the huge deposit to the bank and that the judge had other ways to get the job done.

"Judge Dawson definitely owes the taxpayers an explanation," Anderson said.

"This was a bad scene that happened, she was unarmed and we have bailiffs and we also have Brinks Security who could have transported the money.”

“The least Judge Dawson can do is come and give a statement to the public, letting people know what actually took place, because transparency is the key.”

News 5 made multiple attempts over two days to reach judge Dawson for this story, but so far he hasn't returned emails or phone calls.

Smith pleaded not guilty to three counts of making false statements to law enforcement in federal court and has been released on bond.

Her next court appearance on the charges is set for Feb. 2020.

RELATED: East Cleveland employee indicted for allegedly lying to FBI about being robbed