A Toledo Blade investigatory piece has revealed that Toledo contractor Gregory Harris has a long history of thinking he is above the law. From drug charges to laundering and mail fraud, Harris has dabbled in various forms of crime — all while working as a contractor receiving city money for projects — for years.
The Blade recently ran the story on Harris, his family members-slash-cohorts, and their seemingly unchecked reign as Toledo’s premiere hoodwinkers:
In the 1980s, Harris and his wife, Maggie, were among eight area residents convicted of mail fraud in connection with an insurance scheme. By the early 1990s, federal authorities described Harris as one of Toledo’s largest drug dealers. He and his sister Deborah, who is Shemuel Michael’s mother, were among eight people convicted in a federal narcotics case. At the time, Deborah Harris was a city fire dispatcher. Authorities said Gregory Harris and his sister laundered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug money through Deborah Harris’ property-management company.
During sentencing in that case, Gregory Harris portrayed himself as a central-city Robin Hood who planned to use his drug profits to fix up central-city housing. He was sentenced to 10 years in a federal penitentiary, served less than seven, and finished his supervised release in May, 2005. One month later he incorporated a company, GMH Investments, which also does business as Harris Builders.
Within three years of leaving prison, Harris Builders was receiving money from the city’s neighborhoods department for federally funded rehab projects. While The Blade notes that Toledo and Ohio laws allow former felons to work on such projects as long as there are no charges pending against them, Harris completed only three of his seven post-prison projects before finding himself back in trouble. While doing a project on an abandoned house at 1206 Waverly Avenue, Harris had 55 pounds of marijuana shipped to the address, according the The Blade:
It was March 30, 2009, and the house was undergoing renovations as part of a federally funded program administered by the city’s Department of Neighborhoods.
The department awarded nearly $50,000 for the project to a nonprofit organization called Friendship New Vision, which in turn hired a general contractor to carry out and supervise the rehab work.
Project documents and interviews with former workers point to Gregory M. Harris — who has a long criminal history — as the person in charge of the renovations.
But on this particular morning, the work had little to do with home improvements, according to police reports.
At 11:24 a.m., a few minutes after the package drop-off, a black pickup truck registered to Harris’ company pulled into the driveway of the house.
Harris’ daughter Grecheri Harris, a vice president of his company, stepped out of the vehicle.
She loaded the box of marijuana into the bed of the truck, helped by her cousin, Shemuel Michael, who had been waiting inside the house. Minutes later they were stopped by the Toledo Police Department’s drug task force, which had watched the entire transaction.
The pair were later convicted of drug-related charges, but a Blade investigation shows Harris and his company continued to receive housing rehab work funded by the federal government through the city’s neighborhoods department, despite the proven criminal activity of members of his family — one of whom was an employee at the Waverly Avenue project.
The outrage in this case, of course, is that although Harris had a history of legal problems, the local government still allowed millions of taxpayer dollars to flow through him; even after it became clear he was dealing drugs. It was an improper and inefficient use of tax money and the fact that it went on for so long points to a need for systemic change. A closer look at the Harris operation revealed a web of deceit that involved other contractors as well:
Every year, the city’s neighborhoods department distributes millions of dollars in federal grant money, making it one of the most important spigots of construction money in northwest Ohio. Last year alone, the city spent more than $27 million in federal housing and development funds.
Friendship New Vision is one of the biggest beneficiaries of that money, having received at least $1.4 million to buy blighted or foreclosed houses, hire a general contractor to renovate them, and then sell them to low or moderate-income people.
For the seven projects with which Harris was allegedly involved, none of the files contained contracts showing which contractor received the work, even though the city requires developers such as Friendship New Vision to submit those documents for review.
The Blade subsequently requested copies of the contracts from the city but did not receive a reply.
What the files do show is that Harris Builders and many of the companies listed on bid documents, inspection records, and payment requests, are intertwined.
For example: An inspection report for a project at 2313 Portsmouth Ave. lists “Harris” as the contractor, even though other documents indicate Builder Tech received the contract.
A fax from a city rehab technician about how to correctly tear off a roof at 2033 Talbot St. is addressed to Harris Builders, but other documents show Builder Tech as the contractor.
On a change order for a project at 120 Clifton, Keith Hill of Builder Tech signs on behalf of J&S.
One company that supposedly received two of the contracts shares an address and a fax machine with Harris Builders. That firm, Four Seasons Ltd., is registered in Nevada.
Also in those two cases, Harris Builders is listed as the general contractor on payment voucher requests submitted to the city for Four Seasons projects. Those voucher requests, for $9,107 and $4,869, are signed by Gregory M. Harris and his partner Nick Batt, respectively.
Read the entire piece HERE.