CLEVELAND -- J. Kevin Kelley, a former employee of the Cuyahoga County Auditor's office and a former member of the Parma School Board, was sentenced on Friday to spend six years in federal prison on charges related to the FBI's investigation of corruption within the Cuyahoga County government.
Kelley became a key figure in the investigation soon after FBI agents raided county offices in July, 2008. He told the court on Friday that he was on his way to work when an employee called and told him of the raid and that investigators wanted to talk to him.
Kelley said when he arrived minutes later, he immediately began cooperating. Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon told Federal Judge Sara Lioi on Friday that Kelley's cooperation helped lead to the untangling of the web that lead to the prosecution of dozens of people.
Kelley was a key figure in the prosecution of former County Auditor Frank Russo and former County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, both of whom are serving sentences of more than 20 years for various corruption schemes.
Federal prosecutors told the court that through Kelley's cooperation, they learned about 36 different schemes that they had little or no knowledge about.
Prosecutors say no other defendant cooperated as fully as Kelley. They also said he did so at risk to himself and his family.
Kelley pleaded guilty and was charged with bribery, filing false tax returns and conspiracy. He admitted taking and giving bribes including an increase in his pay for dropping out of the 2002 mayoral race in Parma.
He also admitted being a middle man in schemes involving Dimora and helping to arrange lavish parties and trips for other officials, including money for a trip to Las Vegas in exchange for county contracts.
He also admitted knowledge of schemes that involved county jobs in exchange for favors.
Kelley was described by Judge Lioi on Friday as being a member of "the innermost circle of Cuyahoga County's Corruption Club." In a 19-minute statement before his sentencing, Kelley apologized to his family, who he uprooted to Florida.
He also apologized to Cuyahoga County taxpayers.
"When people are entrusted with leadership roles, you have a responsibility to do your best," said Kelley, adding "and I failed."
Kelley, now 44, said he entered public life at the age of 23 and it was very evident to him that even at the local level, the day-to-day operation of government was controlled by a few and he started believing "that's just how the system worked."
"I made those decisions. I caused my own downfall," said Kelley.
"I justified it to myself, saying 'that's just the way things are done,'" he added, admitting to the court "I played the game."
"When you are in a system and the system works a certain way, the right thing to do is to stand up," said Kelley, adding "I didn't do that."
Kelley told the court that he was now on a mission of redemption.
"I hope that the community understands. I believe I did the right thing," he said of his cooperation since. "I was wrong, yes. Given the choice of continuing the lie or stopping and resetting the moral compass, I believe that is the right thing." said Kelley.
Judge Lioi described the corruption in which Kelley was involved in as "staggering." She said while it is the court's responsibility to promote respect for the law, there are times when that does not necessarily mean imposing the harshest penalty, but that respect for the law could also mean "doing what's right when you are apprehended and you have much to give and much to offer."
In addition to the six years he will serve in prison, Kelley has also been ordered to pay restitution of more than $527,000 to Cuyahoga County. He will also have to repay more than $40,000 to Parma Schools and $87,000 to the IRS.
Kelley is permitted to self report to federal prison.