Schumann's Cleveland Pages archives

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Jim WHO? (8 January 1999)

While the local media, particularly the Plain Dealer, observed the death last week of former writer Jim Parker, it seems that they've all forgotten the story of his biggest story. In the case of the Dealer itself, the omission is understandable; editorial politics and a desire to avoid embarrassing then-Mayor Voinovich had led management to bury what could have been a Pulitzer-class story.

The story began in the early 1980s with what was later described as a "reverse sting" drug operation by Cleveland Police officers working under the direction of Lieutenant Howard Rudolph. The officers allegedly looked the other way while dealer Art Feckner sold powder cocaine in an East Side neighborhood around Woodland Avenue. Proceeds from the ongoing sales were to have funded a major undercover buy in Florida, presumably on the theory that it was more important to get the upstream suppliers than to jail someone as unimportant as Feckner.

A series of investigative articles by Parker throughout 1996 brought this operation to light. As a result, pressure was brought to bear against the Voinovich administration to prosecute Rudolph's former underlings. Embarrassingly, though, Howard Rudolph by that time had become Chief of Police; Voinovich had publicly praised him for agressive and "innovative" law enforcement techniques, including the Feckner endeavor.

Parker didn't do so well either. Plain Dealer brass didn't like running stories that put Voinovich in a bad light, but politically they couldn't fire Parker for doing his job. Parker found himself transferred to the obituary desk. He stuck around there for a while before getting fed up, and (if my memory serves since this isn't in my references) just failed to return from his lunch break one day. On the books, Jim Parker was canned for going AWOL when his real crime was coming up with an important story.

In December 1988, charges against the officers were dismissed by Judge Michael J. Corrigan. Corrigan's ruling was a bit hard to follow but seemed to be saying that even if the police had committed the overt acts alleged by prosecutors, their actions would not have constituted crimes. Rudolph himself was never charged with a crime, but Mike White fired him upon taking office in 1989. For some reason we haven't heard much from Rudolph since.

Feckner himself was convicted and sentenced to five years.

It's true that local police nationwide do perform undercover buys, routinely, as a way of gathering evidence against drug dealers. Less frequently, they have executed controlled "reverse sting" sales, busting the buyers on the spot or soon enough afterwards to avoid having contraband actually distributed and used on the streets. Rudolph supporters blurred the distinction, but the Feckner operation actually resulted in at least half a million dollars worth of cocaine being distributed to actual users on the street.

You couldn't actually say literally that cops were selling drugs. They weren't. But Rudolph's vice unit was accused--with enough evidence to gain indictments against cops--of allowing it to happen in order to raise funds for the Florida bust.

Interestingly, as of 1991 it was reported in the Plain Dealer that $452,000 Feckner had stated he'd given to police was not accounted for. Based on my reading of news indexes, the investigations and judicial appeals seem to have stopped right about then.

The story of Feckner's dope dealing and the alleged involvement of Howard Rudolph's people is bad enough. It's troubling that none of the major media in Cleveland thought to mention what could have been Jim Parker's biggest story ever--the one that got him fired.

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