Thursday, May 28, 2009

U.S. Attorney: "Very, very little" connection between city, county corruption probes

Why hasn't the FBI investigation of Cleveland building inspectors gotten more attention? Because the Plain Dealer keeps treating it as a sideshow to the probe of Jimmy Dimora and other county officials. (Take this May 16 story, for instance.)

But check out what Bill Edwards, acting U.S. Attorney for northern Ohio, said after yesterday's press conference about the inspectors. A reporter I didn't recognize walked up to Edwards and asked him, "What information did you gather that’ll be helpful in the ongoing corruption probe in Cuyahoga County?"

"Very little from this investigation," said Edwards, the top federal prosecutor in Cleveland. "Very, very little."

That’s not what people are writing, I said.

"I know!" Edwards said. He pointed across the room at Peter Krouse, the PD's federal courts reporter. "The Cleveland Plain Dealer keeps making these connections which we have never made."

The paper's angle seems based on a tip it got last July, right after the FBI raided the county building. It reported that a breakthrough came in the county probe when Steve Pumper, a contractor said to have done work on Dimora's house, was caught trying to bribe a Cleveland building inspector.* I mentioned that to Edwards.

"I can’t get into anything involving the county probe," Edwards said. "What I said to [the other reporter was], 'very little connection.' Maybe some, but it’s very small.

"This is not one investigation, which the Plain Dealer would lead you to believe," Edwards said. "These are really two separate investigations."

A small point? I'm sure the PD would say so. Edwards didn't deny there's some connection. But his comments show a few things:

-The Plain Dealer's angles have a huge influence on how everyone in town thinks about the news. (The other day, someone asked me if buddies of Dimora's had just been indicted.)

-The paper doesn't know much about what the feds are thinking.**

-The lead graf in today's front-page story is misleading.

-The paper doesn't really know how the county probe started.**

-Its assumptions about how the FBI is collecting evidence against county officials are more thinly sourced and speculative than they seem.**

-The first indictments from the county investigation are still to come.*

*Update, 7/9/09: The tip about Pumper and the inspector got confirmed in the charges filed against him on July 8, lending credence to the Plain Dealer's theory of the case. (I posted about the Pumper charges here, though I focused on Pumper's alleged relationship with Dimora, not the inspector.) The first charges in the county investigation were filed June 12, and one of those charges suggested another possible connection between the city and county investigations. See my post, with second thoughts about the PD coverage, here.

**Update, 1/5/12: At last, we know more about how the county corruption investigation started, and the Plain Dealer's 2009 theory of the case holds up very well. A new court filing strongly suggests that Cleveland housing inspector Bobby Cuevas was one of the FBI's two best sources about Dimora in 2007. See my post here.

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