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Embattled Middleburg Heights mayor faces new accusations from former assistant

September 26, 2018

Embattled Middleburg Heights mayor faces new accusations from former assistant

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A former assistant to Middleburg Heights Mayor Gary Starr has accused her former boss of bizarre behavior that includes bragging about his anatomy and using a racial epithet to describe his then neighbors.

Those neighbors, Carlos and Dawn Berry, told cleveland.com and other news outlets earlier this year that their home had been frequently vandalized with racist graffiti and epitaphs since they moved in in 2011.

They were charged earlier this year with drug, weapons, burglary and theft charges and have pleaded not guilty.

An attorney representing Patricia Oakar, who worked as an administrative assistant to Starr from 2012 through 2015, claimed in a letter delivered Friday to city hall that Starr engaged in racial and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation.

The letter, written by attorney Paul Corrado, says that Oakar is prepared to pursue a lawsuit on the above allegations but would enter talks to settle the case without a going to court, the letter says.

Starr denied the claims in a written statement to cleveland.com.

“The claims and charges made by Patricia Oakar in a letter from her attorney dated September 21, 2018 are defamatory, malicious and reckless in attacking my good reputation, my family and the employees of this city,” Starr wrote. “I absolutely deny doing or saying any of the completely false and detestable claims that she has made in that letter.”

Starr said he will explore all of his legal options “to correct the record and set the facts straight.”

The allegations are another bizarre development to Starr’s 38-year reign as mayor, and comes as he is locked in a legal battle with his former police chief and butting heads with city council over the hiring of an outside lawyer.

Oakar says she was at a meeting when Starr tried to get the Berrys criminally charged for using a fire pit in their backyard.

Starr called police on Aug. 3, 2013, because Dawn Berry was burning a tree in a fire pit and it created a lot of smoke that blew into his property, a police report said. Dawn Berry was having a fire on her patio for her son’s birthday party. A pile of fresh cut wood was sitting next to the metal fire pit, police said.

Middleburg Heights Fire Department officials determined the fire pit was legal, but suggested Dawn Berry stop burning the fresh cut wood and use seasoned wood to cut down on the amount of smoke.

Two weeks later, Dawn Berry requested police come to her home to intervene because Starr and his wife were making derogatory comments about her and her children to another neighbor, documents say.

“Caller states she’s tired of this and just wants it to stop,” the police report said.

Oakar’s letter says that Starr called her and members of his administration, including then-police chief John Maddox, to a meeting in which he played video from his security camera system that showed Starr shouting at the couple because smoke from their fire pit was billowing onto his property. The letter does not give a date for the meeting.

Oakar said Starr called Carlos Berry the n-word during the meeting and asked the group to determine what the city could charge the couple with, the letter says. 

Oakar confronted the mayor and accused him of using the power of his office to discriminate against the couple, the letter says.

The couple was never charged.

Oakar also claimed that Starr openly bragged about his erection and credited his ability to “still have great sex” to eating pistachios. He told her she had to get a physical done by Starr’s personal physician and give him the results, and also tried to get her to work on his re-election campaign while on city time, the letter claims.

Oakar left her job in November 2015 when Starr placed a 2 1/2-inch rifle bullet on her desk, pointed at her chair, the letter says.

Maddox filed a lawsuit earlier this year accusing Starr of withholding $22,000 in unused sick pay from him, and orchestrating internal and criminal investigations against him, as a means of retaliation for Maddox’s refusal to drop a requirement that all police recruits take a lie-detector test. Starr’s son, Peter Starr, was applying to be a police officer at the time and had previously been investigated but never charged in a Garfield Heights theft case, according to the lawsuit.

Oakar’s letter says that she witnessed Starr’s efforts to disparage Maddox and the police department over the lie-detector test dispute. 

The lawsuit has uncovered secret recordings and a spy novel-like attempt by Starr to obtain Maddox’s fingerprint off the case of a golf ball.

Starr also vetoed an attempt by city council to hire its own attorney in response to the lawsuit. Council members said Starr and law director Gary Ebert were heavily redacting records in response to council’s requests for records related to the lawsuit, hampering the body’s ability to provide oversight to the mayor’s administration.

City council overrode Starr’s veto and have been working with the attorney since.

To comment on this story, please visit Wednesday’s crime and courts comments page.

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