Ohio corruption verdict caps long-running case

March 9, 2012 - 4:07 PM

CLEVELAND (AP) — A former county commissioner and Democratic official was convicted of dozens of corruption charges Friday in a long-running case that led to voter-approved changes in the Cleveland-area political system.

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora was accused of arranging contracts and jobs in return for bribes, including a Las Vegas trip and a $1,000 massage in his hotel room. He was found guilty in U.S. District Court in Akron of 33 counts, including racketeering and bribery, and acquitted of one mail fraud count.

Most of the charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines; it's unclear how much time Dimora might spend in prison.

The verdict caps an investigation that led to more than 50 convictions involving county officials, employees and contractors who traded bribes for government jobs and contracts.

The corruption investigation, led by the FBI, helped fuel a referendum that replaced the three-commissioner county government in Cleveland with a county executive and elected council.

Dimora was charged with taking bribes for nearly a decade, including cash, expensive meals, home renovations, a limousine service, use of a condominium and up to $2,000 toward the cost of a Rolex watch.

With cameras banned from the courtroom, the trial also gained notice when a local television station re-enacted the sometimes-steamy testimony with puppets.

Dimora's comments quoted in a federal indictment about a $1,000 massage are inconclusive.

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

Three hours later, according to the indictment, Dimora was asked by the friend, 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 said he got only a massage.

Dimora's wife and other family members were in court when the jury returned the verdict, The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland reported.

In a closing statement to the jury, assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon called Dimora "the king of the county" and said he had used his public office as the base to run a criminal enterprise.

Defense attorneys attacked the credibility of government witnesses, arguing that they testified against Dimora because they want reduced prison sentences in exchange for their cooperation.

The government witnesses included former county Auditor Frank Russo, a longtime friend and political ally of Dimora, who pleaded guilty to taking bribes. He was hoping his testimony against Dimora would trim his sentence of nearly 22 years in prison.

A second indictment returned in October against Dimora alleged bribes in return for county-backed work at public projects. He has pleaded not guilty to the second indictment.