I TEAM: RTA CEO speaks out about big-money scandal

CLEVELAND - The top man at RTA sat down exclusively with the FOX 8 I TEAM, opening up about a scandal in the transit agency that has led to a criminal investigation.

CEO Joe Calabrese spoke about what he knew, what he didn’t know, and what’s happening now.

Calabrese said, "Well, I'm at the top, and I should have known. And if I did know, I would have acted. And when I did know, I did act."

RTA recently found Board President George Dixon collected more than $1 million worth of health benefits “improperly,”not paying for them. An internal investigation found he racked up massive cell phone bills, too.

But Calabrese says bills added up for decades because his top people hid it from him. He said, "Oh I think it was very purposeful. And they've never let me know. And the only reason is, my conclusion is, they didn't want me to know."

Dixon recently denied to the I TEAM that he took a million dollars worth of health care benefits without paying for them. But Calabrese added, "And when I met with Mr. Dixon, I said George, ‘I didn't know this.’ He said, ‘I didn't want you to know this.'”

Joe Calabrese says he first got questions about the board president`s health benefits back in 2003. At that time, no problem was found. Calabrese says he's now learned that a handful of employees took concerns about the benefits to supervisors. And those bosses let it go.

RTA expects to fire the man who’d been over human resources. Bruce Hampton has been taken off the job pending disciplinary hearings. And now we’ve learned more bosses face punishment, too. Calabrese said, "There are a number of people who brought this to senior leadership. The same two or three members of senior leadership that never brought this any farther.”

Calabrese said he started taking action as soon as he heard about all of this. Now, he says, RTA is planning to try to recover the money involved through an insurance policy that covers crime against the agency.

Cuyahoga County prosecutors are doing a criminal investigation.

Meantime, Calabrese says he’s trying to encourage all employees to speak up if they see anything they don’t think is right. Go to a manager, call a hotline, or go see him in his office if they raise a concern and nothing is being done about it.

Calabrese said right now, he’s most concerned about how you perceive the RTA. He pointed out, “The more significant thing is the reputation of RTA with the taxpayers.”

More on this, here.