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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Frank Russo Resigns as Auditor, Charged in Corruption Scandal (Update)

Posted By on Thu, Sep 9, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Frank Russo and housemate Michael Calabrese, who will have the chance to spend a lot more time together now.
  • Frank Russo and housemate Michael Calabrese, who will have the chance to spend a lot more time together now.

There's bound to be an avalanche of revelations today. We'll post all the updates here.

Update: Here's complete video courtesy of WKYC of Peter Lawson Jones speaking this morning with the media. He seemed pretty angry at the whole situation, and also angry that his mother taught him not to use four-letter words in public. Shame, that would have made for good TV.

Update: Ah, wiretaps. Such beautiful things. If you peruse the 57-page indictment document (which you can access at this link), you'll find plenty of conversations the FBI taped between Russo and other officials. Most of them involve bribery and the like, and while those are damning, they're not hilarious like this exchange between Russo and PE4 in 2008 discussing the upcoming trip to Vegas paid for by Ferris Kleem.

Russo: "Don't say anything, but we just met with the one guy [Kleem] who's going to be there [in Las Vegas], he's gonna have whores and he's got a tiki hut by the pool, he's got everything."

PE4: "I heard. That's a beautiful thing, that's awesome."

Tiki huts and whores, sounds like a good time was had by all.

Update: If you feel a little fuzzy about the mountains of details and names that have led to this day, don't feel bad. It's confusing stuff. The PD has a helpful timeline that breaks down when this FBI investigation might have started, what prompted the raids two years ago (seems they were worried that Dimora might have been tipped off), and who has rolled over so far.

Update: Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said this morning that the commissioners (and by that he means himself and Tim Hagan, not Jimmy Dimora) will choose a new auditor to replace Frank Russo next Thursday. He told the gathered press they will be looking at accountants "whose integrity is unquestioned," because they apparently, like the rest of Cuyahoga County, have had their fill of people whose integrity is questioned.

The PD also reports that Lawson Jones once again urged Dimora to resign.

"This has been unforgivable, unpardonable," Jones said.

He reiterated his call for Commissioner Jimmy Dimora to resign. "It's time for Jimmy to resign as well," said Jones. "I say that with no glee."

Update: WKYC reports that Russo's resignation and plea deal had a lot to do with helping his son, Vince Russo, who has also been charged in the corruption probe. "The Investigator" (always capitalized, don't forget) Tom Meyer says employees at the auditor's office had been tossing around 14 years as a possible sentence for Russo, a number which Russo's lawyer denies.

Update: Here's Franky's resignation letter courtesy of the PD. Some of it isn't even in English — "I apologize to anyone I have harmed for any decision I made that embarrassed or caused any harm to my office."

Update: The PD reports that Russo is expected to plead guilty but still receive a substantial sentence. In exchange, it looks like all of Vince Russo's issues will be taken care of as well and neither will have to testify against the other target(s) — Jimmy Dimora — in the probe.

Russo, 60, of Bratenahl, resigned this morning. He is expected to plead guilty to bribery and obstruction charges, according to sources, based on an agreement that would resolve all issues related to both the long-time Democratic politician and his son, Vince.

Although the plea agreement has not been made public, it will include a substantial sentence for Russo that could have been cut in half had he agreed to cooperate with the government against others, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Neither Frank or Vince Russo will be required to testify against any aother defendant or be questioned at all in connection with the probe. Vince Russo was charged with bribing a Maple Heights schools official and former Maple Heights school board member with free television sets. The agreement with his father dictates the sentence Vince will receive. He had previously pleaded not guilty.

***

Well, friends, it's finally happened.

Frank Russo resigned this morning at 9 a.m. in a letter to county commissioners and shortly thereafter was charged with 21 separate counts at 9:30 a.m in connection with the widespread corruption investigation in Cuyahoga County.

He should have plenty of time to go shirt shopping with housemate Michael Calabrese now.

The details, counts, and who gave the best and most damaging info to the Feds after the jump.

NewsNet5 reports on the damaging details corralled by the FBI, including the fact former aide Sandy Klimkowski told them she funneled more than $1 million in cash to Russo :

Federal prosecutors allege that Russo enriched himself at the expense of taxpayers.

The accusations were made by business associates who have already pleaded guilty to bribing Russo in return for favors.

When FBI agents raided the county office in July 2008, some of the evidence they carried away pointed directly to a private company that Russo hired to perform commercial audits.

VAS Enterprises received $21 million in contracts from taxpayers. But federal prosecutors said Russo hired the company in exchange for kickbacks.

And it was Sandy Klimkowski, a Russo top aide who oversaw appraisals for her boss, who blew the whistle.

Klimkowski told prosecutors she funneled more than $1 million in cash to her boss. She admitted taking $154,000 for herself. Prosecutors said the bribes were paid to Russo by a law firm hired by VAS.

In September 2009, attorneys Timothy Armstrong and Bruce Zaccagnini pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme.

Prosecutors also allege that Russo has thousands of dollars in free work performed at his home.

Cleveland businessman Dinesh Bafna and John Valentin both pleaded guilty to providing kitchen and bathroom improvements in exchange for favors from Russo.

$1 million in cash? That's a lot of freaking money. That kind of coin buys a lot of shirts.

It also buys a pretty good lawyer, but even the best won't be able to keep Russo out of trouble, not with that many people testifying against him and not with those damning details.

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