Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sherrod Brown in Wash. Post: "Too big to fail is simply too big"

Sherrod Brown has an op-ed piece in tomorrow's Washington Post and online tonight. He argues that Congress should establish a maximum size for banks.

"Too big to fail is simply too big," he writes.

He chose a nice round number for his maximum: $1 trillion, just bigger than the country's largest banks today.

You can read Brown's piece here.

Me on WCPN's Thursday roundtable

I'll be on 90.3 WCPN's Thursday Reporter's Roundtable from 9:06 to 10 a.m. this morning.

Host Dan Moulthrop, Plain Dealer reporter Rachel Dissell, and I will be interviewing Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate Lee Fisher. We'll also talk about:

-Jimmy Dimora's trip to Vegas and Jim Rokakis' latest call for Dimora and Frank Russo to resign,
-the ACLU suing for the county transition team's records,
-and juvenile court judge Alice Nelson Floyd backing off her demand that rape victims take polygraph tests.

Update, 4/29: Here's a link to the podcast.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Roldo: Run Dimora and Russo out

Roldo Bartimole says it's time for citizens to get "off their asses" and swarm the county building every week until Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo resign. From his blog post:

It’s time for citizens to take the action themselves. A protest should begin at the Cuyahoga County Administration Building at the corner of Ontario and Lakeside every Thursday, the day Commissioners meet. Hopefully, such a demonstration would get larger and larger each week until Dimora and Russo find it uncomfortable enough that they get the hell out.
It'd be great political theater. Could it happen?

I see two problems. Weekly Thursday morning protests require a special kind of protester, the unemployed kind. How many of the 234,346 people who voted to throw out the county government in November are angry enough to show up every week and have the free time?

Also, Roldo can't mobilize them on his own. So he calls on local bloggers to get the word out. This brings up the question: Could the blogosphere round up a better turnout than the county Republican party? Last July, Rob Frost & Co. tried to pack a meeting with protesters who wanted Dimora to quit. I was there, and if memory serves, they only made a small dent in the crowd in the commissioners' tiny meeting room.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Vegas trip, the prostitute, and the $38 million contract

Plenty of good stuff in the feds’ latest charge (pdf) against a Jimmy Dimora crony. First, 21 months after the FBI hauled it out of his house, we finally learn the significance of Dimora’s refrigerator:

Shortly before November 29, 2006, Dimora asked Kleem to purchase a refrigerator valued at approximately $1,150 and to have it delivered to the Dimora residence. … Kleem, through one of his companies, purchased the refrigerator and arranged for Blaze employees to deliver it.

(The blue quotes are from the prosecutors’ filing, with “Dimora” substituted for “PO1,” because we all know the feds’ code name for the un-charged Dimora by now. Kleem is contractor Ferris Kleem, charged with bribery conspiracy in federal court on Thursday. Around the same time as the fridge delivery, Dimora allegedly called a county employee and tried to get a grant to the city of Berea expedited at Kleem’s request.)

Next, our story takes the pulp-novel turn we all anticipated and feared. Keep reading if you dare.

On or about April 8, 2008, and during the Las Vegas trip, Dimora asked Kleem to hire a prostitute for Dimora. In response, Kleem paid a prostitute approximately $1,000 in cash and escorted the prostitute to Dimora’s suite at the Mirage for the purposes of providing services to Dimora. …

Dimora called back and asked, “I just said, she gives me a massage. Is that how we’re going to start her out?” …

At approximately 12:44 a.m., Dimora called Kleem and thanked him. Kleem asked Dimora, “Was that the best or what?” Dimora said, “Yeah, she’s good but a little chatty.” Dimora thanked Kleem, who said, “No problem, buddy.”

Dimora and Kleem then agreed to meet at 1:00 a.m. at the Chinese restaurant in the Mirage.

This is where Dimora’s defense gets really good. "If it was anything at all, it was exactly what he said it was it was: a massage, and that's not illegal," Dimora’s lawyer, Richard Lillie, told the Plain Dealer.

A $1,000 massage! Could this be what Dimora meant by, “I’m no angel, but I’m no crook”?

{Update, 5/1: Dimora tells Duane Pohlman he got a massage, not sex, and paid the woman himself. See this new post.}

Despite the ick factor, Dimora’s alleged Mirage encounter is (of course) the runaway hit from the Kleem charge, attracting airplay from PD cartoonist Jeff Darcy and less reputable news sources alike.

But sex can distract us from other, homelier sins. Let’s step back a page in the Kleem charges to see what’s happening in Cleveland while Kleem and Dimora are partying on the Strip: Kleem’s $38 million bid for a contract at the new juvenile justice center gets beaten out. As the feds tell it, when the bad news reaches the VIPs at the Mirage, Dimora hits the phones, looking for ways to disqualify the bidder who beat Kleem’s Blaze Building, putting in his last call in about 10 hours before the prostitute arrives.

If Dimora did try to nudge the contract to Blaze, it didn’t work: Blaze competitor Panzica, the low bidder, got the job. So when Dimora’s lawyer tells the PD, "Kleem received absolutely nothing from Mr. Dimora," that could well be true.

But Lillie’s job just got tougher. Looks like this is the story prosecutors want to tell a jury: Dimora tried to steer a $38 million contract to his friend the same day the guy bought him a hooker in Vegas.

(You can read the prosecutors' press release here and their charging document here.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

'What's taking so long to expose crooks?'

That headline isn't mine. It's from a column the Detroit Free Press published earlier this month. Clevelanders, impatient for our public corruption investigation to show results, might be interested to know Detroit's getting antsy too.

You've heard about Kwame Kilpatrick, right? The lying, sexting, cop-firing, justice-obstructing former Detroit mayor? Scandal and a tough local prosecutor knocked Kilpatrick (pictured, in mug shot) out of office a year and a half ago. Now, a massive FBI probe of Detroit City Hall -- which has already brought down the former city council president -- seems to be aiming to add bribery charges to Kilpatrick's tawdry legacy.

The feds seem late to the party, so columnist Rochelle Riley called up the U.S. Attorney in Detroit and asked, what's the hold-up?

"There are important investigative reasons that it can take so long," Barbara McQuade told Riley. "Sometimes, you have to work your way up a chain," she said. "Sometimes, you talk to someone who pleads guilty and that leads you to new people. And we're analyzing records that lead to other records."

That's how federal investigators in Cleveland are pursuing Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo: Still not charging them with a crime, still racking up guilty pleas from potential witnesses 21 months after raiding county offices.

They're getting results. Consider Bruce Zaccagnini, one of the lawyers who's pleaded guilty to bribing Russo with $1.2 million in cash kickbacks. From the Plain Dealer story on his February sentencing:

As soon as federal investigators approached Zaccagnini, he agreed to help make their case against his co-conspirators. The financial records he handed over revealed the corruption was more extensive than investigators had realized, Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon said at the sentencing. "He saved months upon months of agents' time," Bacon said.

Could "more extensive" mean $1.2 million?

The water-torture drip of charges have triggered wild mood swings in the town and the targets themselves. Dimora's gone from reclusive to obnoxiously defiant to subdued to cocky again. He swung back to his innocent-persecuted self-defense last month, because he thinks some of the latest charges against buddies of his are weak -- they did work on his house but didn't do county work.

The favors Dimora allegedly did for the latest contractors may seem small -- recommendation letters and such. But the prosecutors are trying to establish a pattern they can take to trial. The explosive charges involving Steve Pumper look more damning if other contractor buddies testify that they, too, helped remake Dimora's back yard into a patio paradise and didn't get paid until the FBI started nosing around.

Clevelanders want charges, trials, verdicts, closure. But as impatient as they feel now, many of them would be furious if Dimora walked -- if jurors in a future trial were to decide that the investigation had left some fuzzy gray areas between Dimora's Vegas trip and barbecue shelter and his alleged nudges and phone calls at the county building.

In the meantime, the town could use some reassurance from the normally tight-lipped local U.S. attorneys, something like the words McQuade, a Detroit native, offered Riley:

"We recognize the need to act with thoroughness, but also a little bit of urgency," she said. "The city really needs some closure, and it's not healthy for anyone in this city to have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them indefinitely. In public corruption cases, we want to move as quickly as we can."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New county exec candidates: Welo, Brown, and... Frazier?

Wow, what a day for the county executive race! Three new candidates all jumping in: former University Circle president Terri Hamilton Brown, South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo, and, most exciting of all, Cleveland Magazine contributor Mansfield Frazier!

Um, OK, so maybe Mansfield is ... how should I say it? Not entirely serious?

From his new Cool Cleveland column:

… why not? I can sling bullshit, make empty promises, and not call people back once I’m elected with the very best (or worst) of ‘em. And the real upside is, I’ve already been to prison — been there, done that — so that’s not something the electorate has to be concerned with.

Some readers must've thought he meant it. Since Cool Cleveland came out this morning, the note "a satire" has been added to the column's top rail.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

WVIZ's Applause explores abandoned homes

Last month, WVIZ/PBS's Dee Perry interviewed me about my March article, "Tear It Down!" The interview airs in tonight's episode of Ideastream's show Applause at 7:30 pm. It'll also air Saturday at 6:30 pm and Easter Sunday at 12:30 pm.

Thousands of abandoned homes mar Cuyahoga County's landscape, creating a major political issue for both the city of Cleveland and the county government. My articles accompanies Billy Delfs' striking photos of dozens of empty homes.

Applause, an arts show, is looking at creative responses to the foreclosure and abandonment crisis, including Billy's photography. Perry interviewed me on the porch of Langston Hughes' former home.