EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Former East Cleveland mayor Emmanuel Onunwor is out of prison, and for the first time he is speaking out about his corruption-related convictions eight years ago.
Onunwor was sentenced to nine years in federal prison back in 2004. Earning time for good behavior, he was released to a halfway house in January 2012 and totally set free at the end of June.
Saturday afternoon, he spoke exclusively to Fox 8 about his crime, his punishment and his future.
"My first message to my people is to ask for their forgiveness for the wrong that I did and I sincerely apologize," said Onunwor.
Onunwor is out of prison and apologetic about his past.
"I wish I could go back, but I'm not going to go back to recount what happened… we all make mistakes, I made a very bad choices and that's all it takes," he said.
Onunwor was the first Nigerian-born mayor in the United States.
In 2004, he was convicted of extortion, tax fraud and racketeering, found guilty of accepting kickbacks from businessmen in exchange for promising contractors business in East Cleveland.
Onunwor is seen in secret FBI video accepting seven $100 bills in an envelope. Prosecutors said it was bribe money from one-time powerful Cleveland consultant and businessman Nate Gray, who is currently serving 15 years in federal prison.
"Nate is a good friend and will always be, and I respect him dearly, regardless of what happened, you know...things went wrong, but I respect him," Onunwor said.
Onunwor also talked about his son Clifton's conviction for killing his own mother, Diane Onunwor, in 2008.
"Very difficult, very difficult...even today, I'm still dealing with that and many other issues, but I know God is able to see me through everything," he said.
Onunwor also reacted to the corruption scandal involving former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and former auditor Frank Russo.
"I sympathize with their family and I sympathize with them too because I went through alot, my family suffered tremendously, so I can imagine what they're going through," said Onunwor.
He has a message for any other public official caught in a similar situation.
"If at any time the federal government comes after you, accept the responsibility, and I was wrong, I should have done that from the first time...accept I was wrong and go to prison and do my time," he added.
Emmanuel Onunwor says he hopes people learn from his mistakes.
"I'm staying focused and I thank the Lord that I'm alive today...people don't know... to go through that experience, I don't wish it on my worst enemy," he said.
Emmanuel Onunwor says he is still looking for a job. He also says he is working with local churches to reach out to people who are having problems after they get out of prison.