Cuyahoga County Commissioner charged with bribery, fraud


CLEVELAND — The former Democratic Party chairman in Cleveland was led away from his home in handcuffs by FBI agents Wednesday and indicted on charges of bribery and mail fraud, signaling investigators are nearing the end of a federal corruption investigation that has led to more than 30 arrests.

Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, the top target of the corruption probe, was arrested at about 7 a.m. at his suburban Cleveland home. He pleaded not guilty to all charges in federal court later in the day and was released on bond.

The charges against him include bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice, destruction or falsification of records in federal investigations and misusing public office, a violation of the Hobbs Act.

Most of the charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

A defiant Dimora said outside court that he would serve out the remaining 3 1/2 months of his term as commissioner but would take a brief leave of absence to resolve prosecution concerns about him supervising county employees who might become witnesses in his case.

“I'm not guilty and I'm going to defend it, fight it tooth and nail,” he said.

Dimora attributed the charges to “a whole lot of people that got in trouble that made up lies that were cutting deals with the federal government for less jail time.”

According to the 31-count indictment, Dimora took bribes for nearly a decade in exchange for steering county contracts and awarding jobs, including a Las Vegas trip that involved a woman who was paid $1,000 to give him a massage in his hotel room. Other bribes included extensive home renovations worth more than $30,000, an Ohio State football jersey worth $3,600, a limousine service, use of a condominium and up to $2,000 toward the cost of a Rolex watch, the indictment said.

“I'm not an angel, but I'm no crook,” Dimora had said in the heated run-up to the indictment, which capped a two-year investigation. He has angrily denied wrongdoing and invited FBI agents to come after him.

Dimora's attorney did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

The indictment came six days after Dimora's close political ally, County Auditor Frank Russo, was charged with taking more than $1 million in bribes. Russo resigned and surrendered to investigators on Sept. 9.

Dimora and Russo, both identified as original targets of the investigation as FBI agents raided their homes and offices in 2008, are longtime friends. During their Las Vegas trip in 2008, investigators say both received $5,000 for gambling and $1,000 to conceal the identity of the contractor who paid for their flights.

Dimora's comments quoted in the indictment about the massage are inconclusive.

“I just said, she gives a massage. Is that how we're going to start her out?” Dimora tells a buddy in a conversation secretly taped by investigators.

Three hours later, according to the indictment, Dimora was asked by the buddy who arranged the meeting in Dimora's hotel room: “Was that the best, or what?”

“Yeah,” Dimora responded. “She's good, a little chatty, but good.”

Dimora has said he got only a massage.

The indictment also names Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty, a labor union leader, a contractor and two county employees.

McCafferty was charged with lying to FBI investigators when she denied that Dimora tried to intervene in cases in her court. Investigators say she also lied when she said that Russo had never approached her about cases. Her attorney didn't return a call seeking comment.

In a separate indictment Wednesday, a second judge, Steven Terry of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, was charged with mail fraud for taking gifts, payments and campaign donations in return for hiring Russo's cronies, discussing cases with Russo and acting on those talks. His attorney, Angelo Lonardo, said Terry would fight the charges and would take a leave of absence from the bench while the case is resolved.

Since the investigation of the Democrat-controlled county government began two years ago, more than 30 people have been charged — including Russo's son, Vincent, who pleaded not guilty in July to bribery and conspiracy.

Investigators say the younger Russo conspired to trade television sets for consulting contracts. Other people charged include a former mayor of a Cleveland suburb, county employees, contractors and former school board members.

The countywide wrongdoing alleged by investigators spurred voters to change the county government — effective next year — from three commissioners to a county executive and elected 11-member county council.