Friday, April 5, 2013

McGinty revives corruption investigation with state charges against Calabrese

A weekend surprise: Tim McGinty, who promised to crack down on public corruption when he ran for Cuyahoga County prosecutor, is picking up some leads from the federal government’s six-year-old county corruption investigation. Just when you thought everyone had pleaded guilty, it looks like there's more to come.

Late today, a grand jury indicted attorney Anthony Calabrese III (pictured) on two counts of bribery and one charge of theft by deception. All three charges seem closely related to federal charges to which Calabrese has already pled guilty.

“Cuyahoga County Grand Jury Issues First Indictment for Corruption Related Offenses,” reads McGinty’s press release, which went out at 5:36 pm. And yes, that word “first” implies what you think it implies.

“There will be more indictments,” McGinty’s spokesperson, Maria Russo, said this evening. She wouldn’t elaborate.

Calabrese is charged with bribing Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo, indirectly, by directing J. Kevin Kelley to pay for their tickets to Las Vegas in 2008, in order to get Dimora and Russo to help restore funding to Alternatives Agency, a nonprofit Calabrese represented as a lawyer. In the theft by deception charge, Calabrese is accused of getting Alternatives Agency to pay Kelley and Anthony Sinagra as consultants, even though they did no work.

But Calabrese has already pled guilty to federal charges involving the trip to Vegas and the consulting payments to Kelley and Sinagra – bribery, bribery conspiracy and mail fraud conspiracy, to be exact.

So what’s going on?

Today’s charges could be part of a mop-up operation, where McGinty looks at whether leads from the FBI investigation point to violations of state law. He may be looking to file direct charges of bribery and theft where the feds could only make conspiracy, wire fraud or mail fraud charges.

McGinty may also be taking over late-breaking leads in the corruption probe. Federal law has a five-year statute of limitations on bribery and similar crimes, so the U.S. Attorney’s time to file new charges from the corruption probe is running out. (The FBI raided the county building, breaking up the corruption regime, on July 28, 2008.) But Ohio has a six-year statute of limitations, so McGinty has more time.

What might the new lead be?

I wonder if McGinty is probing Calabrese and Kelley’s relationship because he wants to know if they corrupted the county’s 2005 purchase of the Ameritrust complex. County executive Ed FitzGerald told me in January that he’s asked McGinty to probe Calabrese’s relationship to the Ameritrust deal.

At one point last year, federal prosecutors alleged that Calabrese promised to reward Kelley if he successfully lobbied Jimmy Dimora to vote to buy the Ameritrust property. Two months after the sale, the feds claimed, Kelley received $70,000 and a company with a tie to Calabrese received $99,000 from unidentified sources.

But the feds aren’t pursuing that lead anymore. They included it in a witness tampering charge against Calabrese, but dropped that charge in exchange for Calabrese’s guilty plea on 18 other counts.

Calabrese, unlike the other federal corruption defendants, didn’t agree to cooperate with investigators when he pled guilty. So the new charges could increase the pressure on Calabrese to make a deal with McGinty. (Calabrese also faces charges in an unrelated case: he's charged with trying to bribe rape victims to change their testimony at a sentencing.)

Calabrese is the last big lead in the corruption probe.  What more might he know?

Update, 4/14: The Plain Dealer runs a front-page followup today that's basically an 1,120-word question mark. It quotes a bunch of people puzzled over what the hell McGinty's doing. The story says McGinty "stunned federal officials" by charging Calabrese, but doesn't give details.

If McGinty really is just going to pile state charges on top of everyone's federal charges, that's really weird.  I still think McGinty may be trying to work his way up to probing the Ameritrust scandal. But Jim Jenkins, attorney for corruption defendant Daniel Gallagher, offers the PD another theory: McGinty may be trying to go after the corrupt officials' pensions.

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