The U.S. Attorney has filed charges against two new defendants in the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal, and they fit a familiar pattern.
The defendants are businessmen who supply and install granite, but the details of the charges also implicate Public Official 1 and Public Official 2 -- the feds' code for Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo, still not named or charged with crimes. Again, the feds seem to be building two different kinds of corruption cases against the two county officials.
This time, the feds say Dinesh Bafta, president of regional stone supplier Mont Granite, bribed PO2 (Russo) with granite slabs and a sink worth $5,800 to be installed in Russo's house. In exchange, the charge says, the auditor's office reduced the tax valuation on Mont Granite's Solon office reduced from $1.56 million to $1.23 million, and Bafna talked Russo out of a valuation increase of $250,000 on his Pepper Pike home, which restored the value to about $865,000. The charge alleges that Bafta called Russo twice personally to get the values lowered.
John Valentin, an official with Cleveland granite retailer Salva Stone Design, is accused of having his company install granite in PO1's (Dimora's) indoor and outdoor kitchens and master bathroom, then install a sink basin and countertop in Dimora's bathroom. (Total value: about $3,250.) In exchange, the feds allege, Dimora "acted in his official capacity to assist Valentin's friend with a tourist visa application."
This is peculiar -- PO1/Dimora works for Cuyahoga County, not the State Department -- though a letter from a local official might help a visa applicant as character testimony. You can easily imagine Dimora's defense: this is just good constituent service, not a steered contract!
But there's also this: on May 23, 2008, the day the FBI asked Dimora's buddy Steve Pumper to cooperate with them, and Pumper allegedly made a plan to tip Dimora off, the feds say Dimora's wife called Salva Stone for its mailing address, and Dimora "caused a personal check on his bank account to be written" to Salva Stone for $250. That's months after the first granite was allegedly installed in his house, though not long after the second round of stuff.
The pattern I described in my October issue profile of Dimora, "Life of the Party," still holds true: "The filings depict Dimora doing little favors," I wrote: "He puts in a good word for people, nudges, recommends... and takes gifts from his friends before or after." That leaves a gray area that Dimora's attorneys could use in a defense.
The feds' potential case against Russo looks far different: stark, simple bribe allegations. Earlier, we saw allegations of cash kickbacks for contracts -- and now, home-improvement gifts for fixing property values.
Prosecutors again appear to be lining up potential witnesses against Dimora and Russo. "The Government anticipates that both Bafna and Valentin will provide evidence against other unindicted participant(s) in the bribery conspiracy," an accompanying filing says. PO1 and PO2 are the most prominent unindicted figures mentioned in the charges.