Investigator: City official accused of abusing authority

10:52 PM, Aug 23, 2012   |    comments
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MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS -- As this city's economic development director, Charles Bichara is supposed to bring new business to the city and expand its tax base. Mayor Gary Starr says he's doing a good job.

But neighbors tell the Investigator Tom Meyer that Bichara is acting more like a police officer and the gatekeeper of a new subdivision where he's building an expensive home.

On a day Channel 3 News hidden cameras were rolling, Bichara showed up at the Boulder Creek Estates, off Smith Road, four times in four hours. Each time he was driving a city-owned Ford sedan. Neighbors say that day isn't unusal.

"He's there four to six times a day," said Marjie Mraz, a neighbor across the street. She and her husband, Mark, decided one evening to check out the new development.

When they entered the subdivision, they accidentally snapped a flag rope that was stretched across the street. The couple turned right around and, as they left the development, Bichara came out of nowhere in his city car and chased after them.

"He chased us up Smith Road, nearly hitting us two or three times," said Mr. Mraz.

Bichara called police and the couple found themselves surrounded by police cars at a nearby McDonald's.

"He just doesn't want anyone coming down the street where his house is being built," Mrs. Mraz said.

Bichara denied the allegations, saying he doesn't stop anyone or go after them. But witnesses and hidden cameras tell a different story.

Eventually, even Bichara came around to admit it. "I question why they are there," Bichara said.

The department head explained there have been reports of theft in the subdivision. But police said that's news to them. A spokesman told the Investigator the department is unaware of any incidents of theft in that development.

Terri Flowers said Bichara stopped her at the gate, wanting to know who she was and where she was going. Flowers had no idea who Bichara was because she said he never identified himself. She simply wanted to see a friend who was also building a home in the development. 

"He said to me, 'I'll let you in,'" she said. Flowers thinks it was odd he was parked at the gate in a city car. "I just think it's an improper use of a city vehicle," she said.

Bichara argued he's conducting city business while he's checking out his property, but he refused to explain and fled to his office, shut the door, and refused to answer any more questions.

Hidden camera video also shows Bichara using his city car to block the entrance of the subdivision.  He's been seen at the development all hours of the day, multiple times a day. He constantly puts up and takes down the flag rope.

City Councilman Tim Ali said he planned to contact Bichara and tell him to stop pulling people over and questioning them. As the Realtor in the new development, Ali wants potential buyers to visit the area.

"Completely unacceptable conduct," Ali said. "I will call him and tell him to stop approaching people and he is not to take his city car into that development anymore," Ali said.

Mayor Starr said he'll investigate the allegations and decide what action, if any, to take.

WKYC-TV

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