I-Team: One-on-one with RTA CEO over scandal

CLEVELAND -- The FOX 8 I-Team went to the top man at RTA digging for more on a scandal under investigation involving more than a million dollars in health care benefits and more.

But when we found CEO Joe Calabrese, he refused to answer questions saying he has been ordered by a prosecutor not to talk about the investigation.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office is looking into the case involving former RTA Board Chairman George Dixon. An internal review found he had collected more than $1 million in health benefits “improperly." RTA says Dixon also failed to reimburse the agency for big cell phone bills, and the agency found this all had gone on over decades. Meantime, RTA’s man in charge of human resources has been taken off the job. RTA says Bruce Hampton could be fired.

The I-Team found Calabrese at a groundbreaking for a new RTA rapid stop. First, an RTA manager came up to us and said Calabrese would not be answering any questions about the investigation, but he couldn’t explain why.

Since this involves public money, and we were at a public event, we approached Calabrese after the ceremony.

He said, "I can't talk about the investigation, you know that. I'm here to talk about the groundbreaking.” He added, he can’t discuss the case due to orders from the prosecutor.

But the scandal developed under the watch of Calabrese, so we asked what did he know about what was happening? He answered, "What you're asking me, I'm told I can't talk about it. You're not gonna get a different answer."

Last week, the I-Team spoke exclusively to the executives at the heart of the case. George Dixon denied he collected a million dollars in benefits improperly. And Bruce Hampton said, he couldn’t discuss details, but he was only involved since 2016.

All of this comes to light at a time with talk of possible RTA service cuts and fare increases. The budget--tight. So the I-Team is also asking how much is this scandal impacting you? Has it already had an impact along the bus and rail lines?

Calabrese said, "I don't think its gonna mean anything for the rider. We're doing our best to recover all the funds involved."

Yet when we spoke to Dixon, he told us he didn’t know if he’d be able to pay everything back.

Calabrese said when the investigation is over, he’ll sit down with us and talk about everything. We’ll take him up on that offer. But, we’ll also be asking more questions before then.

Continuing coverage.