I-Team exclusive: Jimmy Dimora’s story from behind bars

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CLEVELAND - In an exclusive interview with the FOX 8 I-Team, an at times defiant, and at times seemingly deflated Jimmy Dimora maintains his innocence as he holds out hope that he might receive a new trial.

Federal prison rules prevented the phone call from being recorded for broadcast, but in a lengthy and wide-ranging discussion, the former Cuyahoga County Commissioner said he has no choice but to stand on his beliefs.

"I'm adamant," Dimora said. "I'm not going to admit to something that I didn't do." In 2007, the I-Team broke the story of a federal corruption probe of Cuyahoga County government.

Nine months later, in July 2008, the FBI executed a series of coordinated raids that focused on Dimora and many other officials and county employees.

Dimora was convicted in 2012 of over 30 corruption-related charges.

His 28-year sentence is double what former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich received for trying to sell the Senate seat of then President-Elect Barack Obama, and the same amount of time former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick received for crimes so brazen his judge said he ran a criminal enterprise that devastated his city.

But, unlike Blagojevich and Kilpatrick, Dimora did not admit to any wrongdoing during his sentencing.

Dimora said to do so would go against his values because he says he is not guilty. "I'm not going to do that to get a sentence reduction," he said.

Dimora said several factors played into his conviction - including bias media coverage.

In a neatly-printed, handwritten letter from his prison in Victorville, California, Dimora wrote that "...the negative campaign by the media, which included Fox 8 News, damaged my ability to get an impartial jury for my trial."

"I was convicted by the media before my trial even began," he wrote.

Besides the coverage, Dimora said he was up against an overzealous prosecution that cut deals with witnesses who had committed crimes, and those people lied to get lighter sentences.

He also said his defense was crippled by Judge Sara Lioi's decision not to allow him to introduce his ethics reports to the jury.

The judge had originally said she would allow the reports, and Dimora's attorneys told jurors in opening statements that they would see them. "The judge pulled the rug out from us," he said.

Prosecutors contended the reports were hearsay, and should only be allowed if someone - namely, Dimora - would testify that what was in them was true, and subject themselves to cross-examination.

Dimora did not testify, but he appealed his conviction.

All three appeals court judges said excluding the reports was a mistake, but in a 2-1 vote, they ruled it was a "harmless error."

"If the ethics reports weren't that important and weren't that critical," Dimora now asks, "then why did the government object so much to letting them in?"

Dimora contends that the reports would show that what prosecutors called bribes were actually reported gifts, and that he wasn't trying to hide anything.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to take his case on the ethics report issue.

Dimora's tone softened and his voice grew quieter during the interview when he discussed more personal matters - including his health and his family. "I'm not in good health," he said.

Dimora fell while in prison in Youngstown awaiting sentencing.

"I was knocked unconscious," he said, "(and) I hurt my back and my legs are screwed up from it. I use a wheelchair and a walker to get around," he added.

And he said, "The thing I really miss is my family."

Dimora's direct appeals are over, and he now has to hope that a collateral appeal is successful.

He said a paralegal is helping him with that.

Asked if he's worried that he'll be in prison forever, a subject he discussed during a 2010 I-Team interview, Dimora said, "You always try to have optimism; you always try to have hope."

But he said quietly, "Being in prison is not a good situation. I wouldn't recommend it to anybody."

Jimmy Dimora is 59 years old. Right now, he is scheduled to be released in 2036.

***Check our other previous stories on Jimmy Dimora by clicking HERE***