Dimora Defense Questions Russo About Bribes and Kickbacks

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AKRON, Ohio --

Defense attorneys for former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora started their cross-examination of Former Auditor Frank Russo on Wednesday following a last round of questions from federal prosecutors.

Under direct examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon, Russo talked about his activities after he first became aware the FBI was investigating county corruption in May 2008. That's when FBI agents first approached DAS Construction Company Executive Steve Pumper. FBI agents witnessed Pumper handing over a $2,000 bribe to a building inspector.

Russo testified that he met with Dimora and others at a restaurant in Independence.

Jurors heard a phone call between Dimora and Ruusso in which Dimora instructed him, "Don't talk on the phone, don't talk on the phone."

Russo testified, "Most of the group became nervous. Started to cover their tracks."

He described the demeanor at the restaurant as uncharacteristically somber.

Russo testified it was, "Usually a comical party, this time was very solemn."

In closing the prosecution's questioning, Bacon asked whether the bribes and other criminal activity would have continued if the FBI investigation and raids had not happened in 2008.

Russo answered, "It would never stop. It was going to continue to grow and grow. Because we had no plans on stopping it, or I had no plans on stopping it. It was part of our life at that time that we had created for ourselves."

Under cross-examination from Defense Attorney Bill Whittaker, Russo admitted accepting tens of thousands of dollars on multiple occasions from people who wanted jobs or raises and for steering contracts to friends.

He also admitted a relationship with a law firm that was started after he first took office in 1998 in which he and others were paid more than $1,3 million in bribes and kickbacks for steering commercial appraisal contracts to the firm.

Russo testified, however, that he rejected an envelope with $10,000 cash from a man he did not trust, saying the man had a big mouth.

"We were very selective about who we would work with," testified Russo. "It was a close tight-knit group of us."

Russo testified that he had earlier accepted $5,000 from the same man to get a county job, but that man, Dennis Dooley, started telling people about the bribe.

"He had a big mouth," Russo said in explaining why he rejected the second envelope of cash, which was allegedly meant to be split up between himself and Dimora.

"We only worked with a select crowd with intermediaries, with people we trusted," he testified.

Russo earlier described himself and Dimora as, "inseparable." He told the jury on Tuesday they were a "powerhouse" when they were together.

On Tuesday he interrupted his testimony at one point to say, "This is a very, very hard thing for me to do at this point with Mike Gabor and Jimmy."

Russo also testified under cross-examination that his agreement with the government included protection for family members from federal prosecution.

He admitted asking federal authorities for an agreement, "to hold my children harmless."

Russo testified that he asked federal authorities to agree they would not prosecute his three daughters as well as his domestic partner, Michael Calabrese, and a son-in-law.

"We have a very, very close-knit family," testified Russo. "I have three other daughters and they were going to put other charges against [his son] Vince and we were running out money. I knew I did the wrong thing. I though how I have done this and put everybody in a jackpot like this. I thought two wrongs don't make a right."

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