Tuesday, February 17, 2009

PD to FBI: Quit stalling and bring him in!

The Plain Dealer is tired of waiting to see if the feds indict Jimmy Dimora. Its front-page article today, "204 days & counting: Is probe lagging?" asks why no charges have been filed yet.

It's a weak story. Its impatience reminds me a little of Louis Seltzer's infamous Cleveland Press headline about the Sam Sheppard case: "Quit Stalling And Bring Him In!"

OK, the PD, unlike Seltzer, gets someone from an activist group to say, "Charge him or move on." Still, the paper knows the feds aren't done investigating -- the Parma schools were hit with a subpoena just two weeks ago -- yet it suggests the feds could just charge Dimora with something (anything!) now and figure out the rest later: "If prosecutors do charge Dimora, they could file one or two charges soon and then follow up with additional charges, which is common."

The paper asks why the feds can't move as fast as they did in their rush to charge now-impeached Illinois governor and hair freak Rod Blagojevich. Yet the story quotes U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's explanation that he charged Blagojevich to stop him "in the middle of ... a political corruption crime spree" -- that is, to keep him from selling off a U.S. Senate seat. There's just no evidence that Dimora and Co. are about to pull off any swindle that big.

Yes, I know county officials and voters are stuck in a very awkward position. Even though the FBI is investigating Dimora, he's still making decisions on big issues such as the Medical Mart. Because Dimora hasn't been charged with a crime, only the Republican Party and The Professor have called for him to go.

But consider how long Cleveland's last big corruption case took to unfold. In December 2002, the FBI caught East Cleveland Mayor Emmanuel Onunwor on tape asking political fixer Nate Gray, "Did Santa Claus bring anything?" Agents confronted Onunwor outside Gray's Shaker Square office and found bribe money on him in March 2003. That was the start of the "overt phase" of the Nate Gray investigation (as the feds call it).

But the FBI didn't rush its case in order to get Onunwor out of office. They indicted him in April 2004, a year later. He remained mayor until his conviction that August. Gray was found guilty in August 2005 -- or 2 1/2 years after the investigation became overt.

The county probe is more complicated. It includes work done on Dimora and Frank Russo's houses, Russo's housemate, his son, his private real estate company, tax assessments, the Ameritrust Tower, the juvenile justice center, two judges, several contractors, worker's comp deals across the suburbs, the county's hospital and public housing, alleged ex-mobsters, casino chips, Dimora's refrigerator, a photograph of a now-deceased county employee/former strip-club manager/former radio DJ, and a note about a mysterious "$20,000 payment." Dimora's attorney estimates the feds are poring over 500,000 documents. Give them time!

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