Odds may be changing in Jimmy Dimora’s favor, based on Supreme Court decision

CLEVELAND -There is no way to know if Jimmy Dimora will get out of prison early because of a successful appeal.

What is clear is that his chances of being successful are better then they used to be.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has narrowed the definition of what is "corruption" under federal law.

And so far, two federal appeals panels that have ruled in other cases, based on that decision, have sided with politicians who were once convicted on corruption charges.

"What we don't know, based on what the Supreme Court has now said...is whether the jury found (Dimora) guilty of corruption, or found him just guilty of being a politician," says Michael Benza, a senior instructor at Case Western Law School.

In 2007, the FOX 8 I-Team broke the story of an FBI probe of Cuyahoga County government.

Nine months later, federal agents conducted a series of coordinated raids, bringing the investigation out into the open.

Dimora, once a powerful commissioner, became the face of what became known as the Cuyahoga County Corruption Scandal, a massive federal investigation that led to the convictions of over sixty people.

Convicted on over 30 counts, DImora was sentenced to over 28 years in prison. From the beginning, he maintained his innocence.

"Not guilty, that's how I'm feeling," Dimora said in September 2010, after leaving federal court on the day of his arrest.

He reaffirmed that position in a phone interview from prison with the FOX 8 I-Team in late 2014.

"I'm adamant," he said, his voice rising slightly as he spoke, "I'm not going to admit to something I didn't do, and I'm not going to do that to get a sentence reduction."

The U.S. Supreme Court recently changed the law in a case involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

While troubled that McDonnell reportedly accepted lavish gifts from a donor, the Court was clearly bothered that the government interpreted almost any action a politician might take to help someone as an "official act" - the type of act that triggers the bribery law into effect.

Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts said, "we cannot construe a criminal statute on the assumption that the Government will 'use it responsibly."

Dimora's appeals attorney, Christian Grostic, says Dimora was convicted using a broad interpretation of the law that the Supreme Court just narrowed.

"The government in its closing (presentation) argued that anything he could do, because he was a public official, was an official act. That's not right (under the McDonnell decision)," he says.

Prosecutors see it differently. In opposing Dimora's motion to throw out most of his convictions, they write that they are "preparing a brief summarizing...the nearly 50 "official acts" (Dimora) performed in exchange for bribes, and demonstrating that each of those acts satisfies the McDonnell standard."

Essentially, the Supreme Court's new interpretation forces prosecutors to show that politicians such as Dimora took more specific action - one example may be casting a vote - and got something in return, for it to be bribery.

How this will impact each of Dimora's more than 30 separate convictions isn't clear, but his attorney says some of what prosecutors argued to the jury has clearly been changed by the new Supreme Court ruling.

"They said things like having your staff schedule dinner for you is an official act; it's not," Grostic says, "(and) they said having you staff pick up a fax for you is an official act; it's not, The McDonnell decision makes that clear."

It's not certain yet if Dimora can get back into court to argue the new ruling.

His direct appeals are over, so he's now trying to use a collateral appeal, but those are not automatic.

The judge who oversaw his trial, Judge Sara Lioi, will have to decide whether to let the appeal proceed.

"That's going to be the big decision for the judge, and the first thing she's going to have to decide: 'am I going to apply this law backward to the time of his trial?'" says Michael Benza at Case.

Some courts have been known to allow such appeals, if a defendant was convicted under an interpretation of a law that the Supreme Court later changed.

Dimora's attorneys are not arguing to overturn two obstruction of justice convictions, because they don't think the new ruling applies to them.

Dimora has satisfied the restitution he was ordered to pay - close to $100,000 from his pension, and his half of the proceeds of the sale of what was his home in Independence.

"Restitution is a separate part of his sentence," Benza says, adding that it will have no effect on what happens regarding his prison term. He only has a chance at success now because he's said all along that he's not guilty.

"If you want hope to be exonerated," Grostic says, "you need to maintain your innocence."

But not admitting any guilt at any time can lead to a longer prison sentence - Dimora got several more years then even prosecutors asked for.

"Jimmy, by maintaining his innocence, is in the position of not accepting responsibility because he doesn't believe he did anything wrong," says Benza. Right now, Dimora is not suppose to be released until 2036, when he would be 81 years old.

From prison during our phone interview, Dimora told us, "you always try to have optimism; you always try to have hope." The Supreme Court's ruling has certainly given his legal team new hope.

And, if his appeal is successful, Jimmy Dimora could be out of prison much sooner then many people may have expected.

**More on Jimmy Dimora here**