FBI agents led county commissioner Jimmy Dimora out of his Independence home in handcuffs and chains this morning. He's been indicted on 26 federal corruption charges: 24 counts of bribery and two of obstruction of justice. He'll be arraigned in federal court this afternoon.
Also arrested: Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges Bridget McCafferty and Steven Terry. Terry faces a judicial corruption charge; McCafferty is accused of lying to a federal investigator.
I spent the 9 o'clock hour on WCPN's the Sound of Ideas with Mike McIntyre, talking about the charges. Here's the podcast of the show.
A few thoughts:
-The number of charges surprises me. It's more than the 21 that Frank Russo faces. For months now, I and lots of other commentators have thought the case against Russo was more clear-cut than the case against his friend. Dimora, who's loudly maintained his innocence, appears to believe that he never crossed the line and delivered anything of real value to his friends.
The feds disagree. They're hitting him with charges on what they see as 8 or 9 separate bribery schemes -- trying to establish a pattern of gifts for favors. This could make for a spectacular trial, probing the questions of when a gift becomes a bribe and when a favor for a friend becomes a corrupt favor?
-Dimora's facing charges on several alleged schemes we've learned about in the past 15 months -- the Vegas trip, the alleged free use of a condo at Stonebridge, home improvements on his house and pool patio. Also, two more alleged schemes are detailed in the charges today.
-The first, we first learned about last week: Dimora and Russo supposedly convinced Gerald McFaul to hire their friend Jerry Skruhovec (also indicted today). Skruhovec works for both the auditor's and sheriff's office -- sounds like nice work if you can get it!
-Also, Dimora and William Neiheiser, former Reliance Mechanical CEO, are charged in a new alleged bribery scheme "related to county business and city of Lakewood business." More on this as I dig into the indictment.
-Last week, when I read about judges McCafferty and Terry (PO4 and PO16) in the Russo charges, the case against Terry sounded stronger. He's alleged to have let Russo practically run his judge's chambers and call the shots in some court cases. McCafferty seems to have listened to Russo and Dimora's requests but not promised much. Sure enough, Terry is charged with judicial corruption today (specifically, one count of mail fraud). McCafferty is charged with making a false statement to law enforcement -- possibly a case where the cover-up is what gets you in trouble.
-I've already gotten a call from an attorney I know disagreeing with my comment on the radio that the filing of Russo and Dimora charges, two and eight days after the county council and executive primary, seems timed to minimize the effects on the fall elections. The prosecutors would never allow politics to enter their judgment, the attorney said. For now, I'll just make it clear I was speculating and have no inside info. Update, 2:20 p.m.: U.S. Attorney spokesman Mike Tobin says there's no rule keeping federal prosecutors from filing public corruption charges near an election. Prosecutors are "just working around the clock on it," he says.
No word on whether Dimora is going to plead not guilty and fight the charges. But I'd put money on it. Here, he flips the bird at a NewsNet 5 camera. Update, 2:20 p.m.: He pleads not guilty and fights.
Check out cleveland.com for a photo and video of the agents leading Dimora out of his house.
To read my Oct. 2009 profile of Jimmy Dimora, "Life of the Party," click here.