Investigator Exclusive: Taxpayer corruption tab $35 million

9:43 AM, Sep 30, 2010   |    comments
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The figure includes a $22.7 million tab for all corrupt deals as laid out in charging documents and other public records, as well as more than $5 million in investigatory costs and $7 million to pay for the new county government approved by voters last year in response to the scandal.

The total doesn't include the cost to house defendants who are sent to prison after they're convicted.

It will cost taxpayers at least $600,000 to house former county Auditor Frank Russo for nearly 22 years, based on annual costs provided by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

"Everybody lost," said Leroy Colley Jr. He spent years uncovering corrupt deals at the Maple Heights school board, where officials have been charged with taking at least $135,000 in bribes.

"When my daughter was in school, with all of this going on, they told them they didn't have enough money for books."

Channel 3 News spent a week reviewing public documents to come up with the answer, looking at deals, like the $250,000 contract given to a halfway house that helped send County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Russo to Las Vegas.

Or the $628,000 contractor Nilesh Patel overbilled for work at the county-owned MetroHealth Medical Center to cover up bribes he gave to hospital officials Tom Greco and John Carroll.

The analysis also included the salaries of employees that got hired in return for bribes, including the $683,000 Jennifer Justice has earned at the Auditor's Office.

Kevin Payne, the former chief of staff at the county Engineer's Office, paid Russo up to $5,000 to hire Justice and later did favors for Russo to get Justice undeserved raises.

One of those favors was giving undeserved raises to Russo's daughter, Richelle, who worked at the Engineer's Office. Richelle Russo Reed has earned at least $413,000 as a result.

"That's the terrible thing about this," said Lakewood Mayor Ed FitzGerald, who is the Democratic candidate for county executive. "Because of the thousands of dollars they're giving away millions of dollars of taxpayer money."

There were several big-ticket items that really jacked up the costs, Channel 3 News found.

The biggest was the $12 million the Auditor's Office overpaid on an appraisal contract with V.A.S. Enterprises, an independent county review found.

V.A.S. got the contract after its lawyer agreed to a kickback scheme with Russo that netted him at least $1.2 million.

There was also the $5 million the county paid for a parking garage near the Ameritrust Building after Dimora agreed to facilitate the sale in return for bribes, federal prosecutors allege.

Channel 3 News also estimated it cost at least $5 million to uncover wrongdoing. The station used average salaries of federal employees because exact salaries were unavailable.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Rowland and other federal prosecutors have earned at least $1.2 million in the three years the case has been ongoing.

The 10 FBI agents assigned to the probe full time have raked in at least $3.3 million during that time.

The county, meanwhile, has spent more than $600,000 to hire auditors, as well as a former federal prosecutor Richard Blake, to go over its books as a result of the scandal.

Finally, there's the $7 million set aside for the new county reform government approved by voters last year.

"Probably the thing that made voters vote for it was the corruption so...you could actually argue (it) is the tangible result of the corruption," said County Administrator Jim McCafferty.

But as Matt Dolan, the Republican candidate for county executive, said, the $35 million total doesn't include the lost economic opportunities as a result of the corruption.

"Who wants to invest in a community with a goverment that is corrupt or there's taint of corruption," Dolan said. "It undermines the faith and trust in government and you know if you're working with a contract that is secured through a bribe, it's not the lowest or best (offer)."

WKYC-TV

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