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Cuyahoga County: Russo hirings rile many

8:03 AM, Jan 16, 2010   |    comments
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The four workers specialize in setting values for large properties and buildings.

They formerly worked for V.A.S. Enterprises. Lawyers representing the firm admit paying Russo more than $1 million in bribes over ten years, in exchange for $21 million in contracts.

According to a study commissioned by the county, the firm only did $9 million worth of work.

"The public be damned. The auditor's office is tone deaf to what's happening here," said Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan.

Hagan checked for ways the commissioners could block this. But the workers are being paid out of money controlled by Russo's office.

Commissioners Hagan and Peter Lawson Jones are among many officeholders who have called on Russo to step down because he's a main target of a massive county government corruption probe.

But Russo cannot be forced from office unless he is convicted.

His spokesman, Destin Ramsey, said the four workers are not part of any alleged wrongdoing and hiring them is a logical move.

"Certainly, they know our system. It just wouldn't make sense to reinvent the wheel and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more," he said.

Finding companies willing to work with an office that's under federal investigation is difficult, Ramsey said.

Candidates for the new County Executive job teed off on Russo's action.

Independent candidate and businessman Ken Lanci said,"I don't know how any responsible person can make that decision. Mr. Russo should refrain from doing any hiring without a consensus (from the county government transition team)."

Democrat Lakewood Mayor Ed Fitzgerald said," Commissioners have got to exhaust every possible option to stop this, including filing for a court injunction."

Fitzgerald also suggested seeking to have a court appoint a trustee to oversee Russo's office.

And he called on federal prosecutors to speed up their expected action against Russo and Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

"We can't take another year of this," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Edwards said, "We are doing this in the proper manner. If we file charges against a public official, it will be at the appropriate time."

The four workers -- Carl Martin, Alan Murray, Michael Brown and Lou Gentile -- are being paid between $65,000 and $75,000 each.

WKYC-TV

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