Loyalties tend to go out with the window when you're staring down the barrel of a 22-year prison term.
Frank Russo, who had previously stipulated in his plea deal that he would not testify against others in the government's Cuyahoga County corruption cases, changed his tune yesterday. The new tune being that of a bird.
The Plain Dealer reports that Russo has given up the "snitches get stitches" mantra and will now testify against Jimmy Dimora and the rest of the Cuyahoga County Corruption All Stars. Russo seems to be angling for a lightened sentence, one four or five years shorter than the nearly 22 years he's looking at now.
What does this flip-flop from Russo mean for Dimora and the gang? And what does this mean for Russo's sentence? And how is Russo going to pay the ordered $7 million restitution?
Russo's cooperation could put additional pressure on Dimora to plead guilty, as well as others who have yet to be charged, said Geoffrey Mearns, a former federal prosecutor who is now the provost at Cleveland State University.
Dimora was already struggling to find the money for his legal defense. U.S. District Judge Kate O'Malley recently allowed attorneys Richard Lillie and Gretchen Holderman to drop him as their client because they weren't getting paid.
Mearns said he thinks it would be highly unlikely to see Russo's sentence cut in half, but that maybe four or five years could be knocked off depending on how helpful he is to the prosecution.
A lawyer familiar with the investigation said Russo will probably have to provide information on people other than Dimora and those charged or named in his indictment to get any substantial credit for his help.
Russo's attorney Roger Synenberg declined to say why Russo changed his mind about cooperating or what he hopes to gain.
Mearns suggested that when Russo was denied the chance earlier this month to travel to Las Vegas for a family wedding that it made him realize even more the freedoms he would soon be losing for a long time.
"In a situation like this you never know what straw will break the camel's back," he said.
As for the $7 million in restitution, some of that money will come from other defendants, but Russo is already ponying up. He will use $225,000 from his state pension and be saddled with $1,500 monthly payments for 30 months. He's already paid $35,000 in cash.
Here's a short statement Frank Russo read from before entering the courthouse yesterday:
"My brothers and I were brought up to be honest and always act in an ethical way. I cannot identify the exact time that I strayed from this directive, but there came a point in time in my life when I made a decision to act in a fashion that I can now say was terribly wrong, which I truly regret."
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