AKRON, Ohio-Following an afternoon lunch break testimony from J. Kevin Kelley, a key witness in the corruption trial of Jimmy Dimora, shed light into the lavish dinning habits enjoyed by the former Cuyahoga County Commissioner while allegedly rarely ever spending a dime.
Kelley testified that he, Dimora, former auditor Frank Russo and others would often eat out at three to four different restaurants in the area of Rockside Road in Independence.
“There’s three restaurants we would venture out to. If it was just drinks and appetizers we would go to Shulas Steak 2,” Kelley said, adding that the group would also frequently eat at Delmonico’s or Lockkeepers. “But when it became Dante’s we went there less frequently. It was a really high end steak house.”
Kelley told the jury that sometimes 4 to 5 people would go to dinners that would cost, “$300 to $400 to $500. Sometimes $1,000.”
“Who determined who would be at these dinners?” Kelley was asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon.
“Usually Mr. Dimora,” he testified.
“Who determined who would pay for these dinners?” Kelley was asked.
“We tried to get a sponsor, mostly contractors who would come to the restaurant for dinner and pick up the bill,” said Kelley. “If we couldn’t get a sponsor usually I would pick up the bill or Rob Rybak [Business manager for plumbers local 55] would pick up the bill.”
Kelly testified that it was all but understood that if there was a sponsor at the dinner, the meal would be paid for by that individual. But often Kelley was left picking up the bill for many dinners.
“Approximately how many times in 2003 did you pick up the bill,” asked Bacon.
“Dozens. I couldn’t put a figure on it,” said Kelley.
“How much money did you spend sponsoring dinners for Mr. Dimora?” asked Bacon.
“Altogether about $20,000,” Kelley replied.
Bacon followed by asking, “How many times in 2003 did Mr. Dimora buy you dinner?”
“Umm… never.” answered Kelley.
Kelley testified that Dimora’s meals were usually extensive. He testified that Dimora would occasionally order a steak and cut it up for an appetizer.
According to Kelley, Dimora’s meal frequently included a $70 steak, and Crown Royal on the rocks.
“If there wasn’t a sponsor I knew I would pay for the meals,” Kelley testified.
Kelley testified that during the summertime dinners were had at Dimora’s Independence home.
“How many times did Dimora or Russo pay the bill?” asked Bacon.
“Never,” Kelley testified.
Kelley was later asked about a graduation party for Dimora’s son that Kelley described more like a wedding reception than a graduation party.
He testified that the catering bill was about $9,000, a figure that upset Dimora.
“He asked me to go to Perry Stancato and see if he could lower the bill,” said Kelley.
Perry Stancato is the owner of Stancato’s Restaurant and Catering in Parma.
Kelley said he went to the caterer to discuss the bill, and that Stancato agreed to lower the bill to around $6,000, but was not happy about doing so because he was losing money doing the party.
Kelley testified that he told Dimora about the discounted figure, but he was still unhappy.
“Mr. Dimora was still unhappy with that bill, he wanted it lowered substantially,” testified Kelley. “I asked, “How much did you want to pay?”, he said $3,000 to $3,500.”
Kelley testified that he paid the $3,000 balance Dimora was unwilling to pay, billing it to a fund at the Parma Schools set up by a contractor.
“Johnson Controls had a promotional fund for dinners and P.R. and items at our discretion, I had Perry Stancato bill Johnson Controls for $3,000,” Kelley testified.
“Has Mr. Dimora ever paid for any graduation parties for your children?” Kelley was asked by Bacon.
“No,” he replied.
In the morning portion of testimony Kelley testified that in addition to losing his homes, he now suffers from various medical conditions as a result of this case including insomnia, depression. Kelley informed the jury that he has always suffered bi-polar disorder.
“Most of my friends are no longer my friends, because of my actions and my failures,” said Kelley. “I have had to tell my wife about my dealings with prostitutes… I don’t know if you can imagine how difficult it is to tell your children about the things that I did and participate in.”
Kelley went on to discuss his service on the Parma school board. Testifying that he left the district because a levy was on the ballot for the Parma schools and, “I was becoming a real strong distraction to the district, because of the county raids and my involvement in those raids.”
Kelley testified that he first became aware he was a part of the FBI investigation in June 2008.
“Michael Gabor called me and told me he had talked with Steve Pumper, and my name came up before a grand jury that was hearing a case regarding sporting tickets that I had received from Mr. Pumper.”
Kelley went on to say that on the day of the FBI raids on Cuyahoga County offices he was on his way to work.
“I got a call from a co-worker saying that the FBI had raided the engineering office where I was working,” said Kelley.
He later added, “I went to work and met Special Agent Oliver and Special Agent Massie. They told me I was a target of the investigation first, and then they asked me if I would talk to them about this investigation. I said I would cooperate.”
Kelley testified that the first time he was ever asked to be a “conduit’ for payoff money was in 2002.
He testified that he was in a car with Kevin Payne and was asked to reach into the glove compartment where he would find $5,000.
Kelley said Payne told him to take the money and give it to Frank Russo.
He testified that Payne wanted someone to be hired at the Auditor’s office.
“I had never done anything like that before,” he testified, telling jurors he thought he was being set up and declined to do that.
Kelley testified that he told Payne to take the money to Russo himself, which he did.
He told the jury that the individual Payne wanted hired was employed by the Auditor’s office a week later.
Kelley appears to be a principle player in the FBI’s four-year long investigation of corruption in county government.
In their opening statements federal prosecutors used a pyramid to illustrate the importance of individuals involved in their investigation. Kelley was shown on the same level in that pyramid as Dimora co-defendant Michael Gabor and former DAS Construction Executive Steve Pumper.
Kelley’s voice has been heard in many of the FBI wiretapped telephone calls already played for jurors over the past two weeks.
In testimony thus far Kelley has been implicated in a scheme to rig the 2006 election for county auditor, and as being a middle-man in making arrangements for an April 2008 trip to Las Vegas.
Testimony and evidence shown to the jury up to this point places Kelley along on that trip which witness Ferris Kleem admitted he paid for, as well as along on other trips to casinos in Canada.
Kelley was accused of taking payments and funneling cash to others indicted in the federal corruption investigation including Dimora and Russo.