Jury indicts Cleveland area plumbing and heating manager

by Leslie Benson

The general manager of a highly rated Ohio plumbing and heating company is facing 11 criminal charges as the result of an 18-month corruption probe into the Ohio Department of Transportation, according to state officials.

Dennis B. Kratochvil, 47, of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and DeBord's One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning in Chardon, Ohio, may face trial this year along with four other ODOT vendors who've been indicted by a Cuyahoga County grand jury, according to the Ohio Inspector General's office. No trial date has been set.

Kratochvil is charged with one count of racketeering, five counts of tampering with records and five counts of theft by deception ' crimes he's accused of committing while performing commercial work for ODOT. He faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted.

Residential customers make up about 85 percent of the company's business, says Kratochvil's wife, Leona, who owns DeBord's and serves as its president. DeBord's services Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and portions of Portage counties in Ohio. The company continues to operate, and Dennis, who is out on bail, is still working there.

"Some clients have asked us about the allegations, but we haven't seen a drop off in business," Leona says.

Dennis, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, says, "We are cooperating fully with the authorities to clear up these allegations. With the current management team and highly trained technicians, I am confident that DeBord's will be around for many years to come."

Deputy Inspector General Ted Wendling says Dennis employed a "front" company scheme to gain $37,481.30 in commercial ODOT business through his father, Dennis L. Kratochvil, 65, a former ODOT manager who pleaded not guilty to 26 criminal charges in connection with the case.

According to OIG documents, the younger Kratochvil persuaded Pete Camarato, owner of Maintenance Masters, a general contractor in Kirtland, Ohio, to submit quotes to ODOT on behalf of DeBord's, which would perform the work. Camarato allegedly would give 90 percent of the payment to DeBord's and keep 10 percent for himself.

"Camarato has not been charged in the case, but he has not been cleared either," Wendling says. "The investigation is ongoing and the prosecutor has stated publicly that there will be more indictments."

Wendling says a few quotes submitted by Maintenance Masters were phony. Camarato was reluctant to comment on the investigation but told Angie's List Magazine: "It's a long story, but when we realized something didn't seem right, we pulled out of the project, but someone was already altering our letterhead."

Chris Leach of Clockwork Home Services, the corporate head of the Benjamin Franklin Plumbing franchise, based in Sarasota, Fla., says: "Customers can be assured that their quality of service will not suffer."

If Dennis B. Kratochvil is convicted, Leach says, the franchise would remain since it's registered under his wife's name.

Angie's List member Savery Rorimer of Shaker Heights, Ohio, says she has a low opinion of DeBord's after a disappointing service call for chimney safety in January 2009, and she didn't know Kratochvil was involved in the corruption probe.

"If I had known about such allegations at the time, I wouldn't have hired DeBord's," she says.

Angie's List member Burt Jackson of Leroy, Ohio, says he had a good experience with DeBord's when the company repaired his well in 2007, and he would hire them again despite the investigation.

"I would only want to know about the allegations if it concerned the kind of work I needed done," he says.

Editor's note: Angie's List has pulled advertising for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing and DeBord's One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning. We reserve the right to cancel advertising when a key employee has been charged with or convicted of a crime. We have added a Notice to the company's profile and it is excluded from member searches. If Dennis B. Kratochvil is cleared of the charges, we will remove the Notice and reinstate advertising eligibility.

Clarification: Kratochvil is not associated or employed  with any other Benjamin Franklin franchise, and to our knowledge, no other Benjamin Franklin franchise in Northeast Ohio is involved or implicated in the criminal indictment. After this story posted, Kratochvil was removed from his position and is no longer an employee at the Benjamin Franklin franchise, says Leona Kratochvil, the company’s owner and Dennis’ wife. We would also like to clarify that the alleged crimes took place several years before DeBord’s became a Benjamin Franklin franchise.

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