Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What's taking so long?: The PD's corruption update

People are always asking me why federal prosecutors are taking so long to charge Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo. I recently answered by comparing our corruption to Detroit's. The Plain Dealer's answer came Sunday in a well-reported story by Peter Krouse, a cool chart, and a clear front-page headline: "Building the case: Feds work carefully; Their strategy is to catch small fish first." From the story:

To make sure their charges stick, ... the evidence against the two men must be overwhelming. ... It's crucial in this kind of corruption probe to have a case that is "virtually suffocating," said Geoffrey Mearns, a former federal prosecutor ... "What the feds like to put together is a case with shock-and-awe evidence, almost like the military strategy going into Iraq," [former FBI agent John] McCaffrey said.

Last year, the PD ran a story that seemed impatient for big charges. Now that the town is more impatient, the paper, smartly contrarian, steps up and explains the probe's pace more patiently, with well-informed comparisons to the complexity of corruption probes in Chicago, Detroit, and New Jersey.

The full-page chart is the single best summary of the investigation I've seen. It shows how almost all of the 19 defendants on the prosecutors' official list (pdf) are allegedly connected to the uncharged Dimora and Russo. Color-coding shows who's pleaded guilty, who's been charged, and who hasn't. I'm saving it to use as a guide to the case.

(Why does the story mention "more than two dozen" defendants, while the chart has 19? The PD sometimes counts the busted Cleveland building inspectors as county corruption defendants. The prosecutors don't. Only one crooked city inspector has a known connection to the county probe. A former Stonebridge construction manager may be a second link.)

Krouse also gets a tip that the big charges may come before long:

Mearns said ... he believes two years should be sufficient to complete an investigation of this size and scope. ... One source close to the investigation said prosecutors have met recently with attorneys for Russo and Dimora and indicated that if their clients don't cooperate, charges could be filed soon.

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