Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dimora: "I will prove my innocence"

"I am innocent," Jimmy Dimora said this morning at the county commissioner's meeting. "If I have to have a day in court, I will prove my innocence."

Provoked by county Republican chairman Rob Frost, the embattled Dimora launched into a long speech at the end of the meeting today, attacking Frost and responding to the federal corruption investigation.

"I haven't done anything wrong," Dimora told Frost. "I'm innocent. I'm not resigning."

After the meeting, reporters asked Dimora about J. Kevin Kelley, the former county employee and former Parma school board president now facing federal bribery charges. "I know Kevin, just like anybody does," he said. A reporter asked if Dimora had ever taken bribes from Kelley. "No, absolutely not," Dimora replied.

Dimora confirmed he'd traveled to Las Vegas with Kelley. But he said he had not gone there with Ferris Kleem, an executive for Blaze Building and Phoenix Concrete. "He was not with us," he said. "It was a whole separate trip."

The charging document against Kelley claims a Blaze and Phoenix executive gave casino chips to a Public Official #1 -- apparently Dimora -- while they were in Las Vegas in April 2008. Phoenix had received a contract from the county commissioners two weeks earlier and received another weeks later. Dimora said he couldn't respond to a question about the allegations involving gaming chips.

Asked if he was Public Official #1, Dimora said, “I have no idea.” But later, he seemed to acknowledge that he recognized himself in the prosecutor's filing. “I hope there’s no – any kind of charges that are filed [against me]," he said. "I saw people, saying statements and making some allegations, that are in trouble. And I guess sometimes people do that to lessen their penalties or their consequences. But I was the smallest amount of portion in that issue, I think.”

During the meeting, Frost had asked the commissioners if they could guarantee that no lobbyist for any of five contracts they were considering was under federal investigation.

Dimora accused Frost of not understanding how the commissioners work. He said he had never pressed the other two commissioners to vote a certain way on any contract, and noted that most commission votes are unanimous. He also defended himself against press accusations of patronage and cronyism by saying none of his relatives had ever worked for the county while he was commissioner.

Speaking from handwritten notes, Dimora launched into a long counterattack on Frost, the county and state Republican parties, the Plain Dealer, and Parma Heights mayor and county reform advocate Martin Zanotti. Dimora argued that the Republican-prompted audit of the work of county auditor Frank Russo, Dimora's close friend and ally, was redundant because state auditor Mary Taylor already audits the county's books. He also called Frost's threat to petition for removal proceedings against Dimora an effort to set up a "kangaroo court."

Dimora questioned whether Frost, a member of the county board of elections, had any relationships with elections contractors. He claimed Zanotti, like himself, had traveled with Kelley. (Update, 7/2: See more details, and Zanotti's response, here.)

Dimora also suggested that former Ohio Republican Party chair Bob Bennett had teamed up with Plain Dealer editor Susan Goldberg and former editorial page editor Brent Larkin in March of April of 2008 to attack him. (This, like a similar accusation he levied last April, seems inspired by Dimora seeing Bennett having lunch with Goldberg and Larkin back then.) He even brought up the decision that Bennett and other former board of elections members made in 2005 to buy thousands of ill-fated Diebold voting machines.

"I think the federal government is doing a detailed and thorough investigation of me," Dimora said to Frost. "I know my family and myself have been living through hell for the past year. And I don't wish that on my worst enemy. And I guess that would be you."

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