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Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Nigerian born US mayor convicted of racketeering
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Nigerian born US mayor convicted of racketeering
- AP

The mayor of East Cleveland was convicted of 22 counts Monday for using his public position to conduct a racketeering enterprise dating back to 1990. A federal jury found Emmanuel Onunwor, 46, guilty of one count of racketeering, four counts of mail fraud, 11 counts of extortion, five counts of filing false tax returns and one count of bankruptcy fraud. He was acquitted of witness tampering.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his sentencing Nov. 24. U.S. District Judge James Gwin ordered him held overnight and set a bond hearing for Tuesday.

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Onunwor did not testify in his trial, which began Aug. 16, and did not comment after the verdict. The jury deliberated for a few hours Friday and reached a verdict Monday after a weekend off. U.S. Attorney Gregory White said Onunwor received bribes, kickbacks and secret payoffs that were often funneled through intermediaries. White said the payoffs occurred while Onunwor served as mayor and during previous jobs as city council president and director of community development. Federal agents arrested Onunwor on April 22 at East Cleveland City Hall.

Onunwor became the first black, African-born mayor in the United States when he was elected in 1997. He was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at age 22 to escape the instability left by a civil war. In 2002, he caused a political stir in his impoverished, predominantly black and Democratic city by switching his allegiance from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

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