Armond Budish, Executive of Cuyahoga County, Ohio is currently being investigated by state prosecutors and the FBI for many alleged acts of malfeasance he is reported to have committed or taken part in since his election as executive, including his operation of the local jails.
Ed Fitzgerald, his predecessor, laid the groundwork for expanding the county’s central jail, along with its satellite facilities in Euclid and Bedford Heights into a regional system. He believed by doing this, the jail would become an income generating venture and eventually a money maker for the county. Before this five-year long scheme was over, the lives of nine prisoners would be forfeited.
Ten prison guards were prosecuted for various crimes, with eight of them being convicted. The current and former jail directors have been indicted and charged with crimes. The former director pled guilty to lesser offenses and will be testifying against the current jail director, Ken Mills, who is awaiting trial.
Ken Mills and Matt Carroll were holdover employees from Ed Fitzgerald’s administration. Carroll remained a high level official and supposedly gave Mills a list of three jobs to choose from. According to Sheriff Clint Pinkney, Mills chose the job of running the jail because it had a director’s title. Mills’ lawyer would later deny this.
Since the jail director is subordinate to the sheriff, Pinkney warned Mills never to go over his head to Budish. He was leery of Mills, a Coast Guard retiree with no corrections or law enforcement experience or education qualifying him for a jail director job.
After giving Pinkney his word not to go over his head to Budish, Mills met with Budish. Budish told Mills of his intent to continue Fitzgerald’s plan for a regionalized jail system and charged him with the responsibility to carry out that mission. Being given carte blanch by Budish, Mills set out to accomplish his orders, without consulting anyone on the medical or law enforcement side, despite the fact that Eric Ivey, Mills’ predecessor, had been demoted but still worked in the jail as a deputy and remained loyal to the county.
Health care at the jail was provided by the MetroHealth hospital. The arrangement was contracted by the county in 2008 following the death of famous R&B singer Sean Levert while he was incarcerated there. The county hired and maintained some of the nursing staff as part of the contract with MetroHealth maintaining supervisory capacity.
Mills began his quest to make the jail profitable by slashing budgetary items like toilet paper, food, and basic hygiene products. He then turned his sights on medical services. As the jail population was rising, there was a shortage of nurses, nearing a critical situation. Mills would deny all requests for new hires, not realizing his denials were being entered into an electronic record.
As jail conditions deteriorated, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley began having to defend the county from lawsuits over jail conditions. This detracted so much from his initial investigations of Budish he had begun in 2018, he handed them over to Ohio’s attorney general on February 1, 2019. Soon thereafter the FBI became involved with much of their investigative fervor swinging toward the jail as prisoner deaths began increasing.
Mills then attempted to shift health care contracts from MetroHealth to NaphCare. Depending on which emails Mills sent, he expected to save the county from $1 to $1.5 million or $2 to $2.5 million annually.
In the meantime, Mills was reassigning guards to do initial medical intake interviews instead of nurses for the growing jail population to help the dwindling, overworked nursing staff. This caused much confusion, resulting in some detainees never receiving an initial medical intake screening and caused at least one prisoner’s death.
At one point, the United States Marshals Service performed an investigative audit of Mills’ jail. That inspection found the jail to be “inhumane.” Pinkney distanced himself from the jail as a result of Mills continuing to go over the sheriff’s head to Budish, who continued ignoring Pinkney’s demands to fire Mills.
County Councilman Michael Gallagher and Council President Dan Brady called a meeting on the nursing shortage and health care contract. Jail Medical Director·Dr. Thomas Tallman was unable to attend so he sent nursing supervisor Gary Brack. Mills’ plan to switch care providers was voted down. He testified he had never been made aware of a nursing shortage at his jail. Brack testified otherwise and produced emails proving Mills had been made aware of the shortages and had steadily denied requests to hire more. No nurses were ever hired for or assigned to the Euclid and Bedford Heights jails. Budish would later successfully pressure MetroHealth CEO Boutros and jail medical director Tallman to ban Brack from the jail in retaliation for his damaging testimony before the County Council.
On February 14, 2019, a joint raid on Budish’s offices was conducted by agents from the FBI and Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The documents, records, and interview notes confiscated from that search gave support to the materials previously gathered from other sources the investigators had interviewed to that point. Budish had involved himself in acts of coercion, extortion, witness tampering, official business obstruction, and civil rights violations.
In April 2021, former jail guard Martin Devring was sentenced to 30 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of tampering with records and dereliction of duty related to a prisoner’s death. Ken Mills’ trial is set for this coming August. As of print time there was no word of Budish’s fate or the Ohio Attorney General’s or FBI’s intent to seek any indictment(s) against him.
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