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Published: Wednesday, 7/30/2008

Cuyahoga official protests raids on office, home


CLEVELAND - Federal agents who raided the office and home of a top Cuyahoga County official as part of a corruption investigation were looking for evidence on fund-raising, travel, and contacts with outside contractors, according to an inventory of seized items released yesterday.

The items included Commissioner Jimmy Dimora's appointment books, employment applications, fund-raising memos, and construction project documents.

The list was released at a news conference with Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, a fellow Democrat who is president of the three-member commission.

Mr. Jones said people in the county, a Democratic stronghold that includes Cleveland, were sickened by the sight Monday of FBI agents raiding the home and offices of Mr. Dimora and his friend and political ally, county Auditor Frank Russo.

No one has been charged in the investigation, and Mr. Dimora hasn't commented.

In a statement to the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Mr. Russo said the warrant came as "a complete surprise" and vowed to continue in his job.

"I have done nothing to warrant the search. There was no reason to disrupt the county auditor's office and my home," he said last evening.

Mr. Jones said Mr. Dimora told him he was shocked by the search and felt he hadn't done anything wrong. Mr. Jones added he never felt pressured by Mr. Dimora to back any government contract.

Despite the probe, Mr. Jones said he feels Mr. Dimora is entitled to participate in all his official duties, including voting on future contracts.

FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents entered a county office building as part of a series of 10 coordinated raids that included contractors that have done business with the county. Mr. Jones said most contracts involving companies that were raided represented the lowest and best bidders.

Mr. Jones said he had no information on what direction the investigation was headed.

FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said he couldn't comment on any aspect of the investigation.

The investigation comes amid a civic push to reform and streamline the county government.

Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, a Democrat, urged the Republican-controlled state legislature in the spring to pass a bill that would have cut the number of elected county officials by more than half.

As a compromise, the legislature created a nine-member commission to study reforms and make recommendations by November. Cuyahoga voters would have to approve any changes.

House Speaker Jon Husted said yesterday he received a lot of "angry pushback" to the reform commission from the Democratic Caucus in the Ohio House, as well as Mr. Dimora.

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