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Investigator: Prosecutors must now convince jurors Dimora's guilty

6:46 PM, Sep 15, 2010   |    comments
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The indictment details a host of allegedly corrupt activity involving Dimora, area business leaders and even a sitting Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge, Bridget McCafferty. But does it tell the whole story?

Expanded Cuyahoga County corruption coverage

"In the trial there often is not a dispute about what happened," said Geoffrey Mearns, a former federal prosecutor who is provost at Cleveland State University. "The real dispute in public corruption cases is what was the person's intent."

That means prosecutors will have to show there's no doubt everyone involved in the deals knew of wrongdoing.  Do to that, Mearns said, prosecutors will have to prove the wads of cash, sexual favors, freebies and the now infamous gambling trips were bribes for public contracts.

The difficulty may be streamlining the case. The feds have racked up dozens of convictions along the way, uncovering schemes at the Cleveland Building Department, at the Maple Heights School Board and at MetroHealth Hospital.

"It is often difficult in a case like this to connect all of the dots," said Mearns.

Which is why prosecutors will likely focus on a handful of key players: Chief among them is J. Kevin Kelly, a former county employee and Parma School Board member. Kelley says he arranged for Alternatives Agency, a halfway house, to take Dimora and former County Auditor Frank Russo on an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas in return for a county contract.

Ferris Kleem can back up Kelly if called. That's because Kleem, a former executive at Blaze Construction, chipped in thousands for the Vegas trip in return for a different contract. Among the perks Kleem paid for was a $1,000 prostitute for Dimora.

Two others will likely be called. Kevin Payne, the former chief of staff for the county engineer, and his predecessor, Daniel Gallagher, both say they worked with Kelly on arranging bribes for Dimora.

Then there's Steve Pumper, a former executive at DAS Construction. Pumper admitted bribing Dimora with home improvements, high priced meals, free sports tickets, and $33,000 in cash.

Dimora has denied any wrongdoing, saying, "I believe they are making deals to better enhance their self serving interests"

But Mearns said that can backfire. "You really test the jurors' patience and their willingness to believe that particular defense because it begins to sound like a pattern of excuses," he said.

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