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Frank Russo completes testimony in judge's trial

6:39 PM, Jun 7, 2011   |    comments
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AKRON --  Former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo has completed his testimony in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry's corruption trial here.

Russo spent the better part of two days on the witness stand.

Much of his testimony Tuesday centered on how things are run in heavily Democratic Cuyahoga County. "Basically, Cuyahoga County is filled with Democrats," Russo said.

In talking about politics, Russo said "I was raised the old-fashioned way, one hand washes the other." Russo is testifying for federal prosecutors in Terry's trial.

Russo said his family was raised for public service. Russo's father, Anthony, was a state representative. Russo's older brother, Basil, was a councilman and a judge and his brother, Anthony, is also a judge.

Terry is charged with five counts of mail fraud. Russo said he asked Terry to help a friend of his in at least one case, "give him the benefit of the doubt," as Russo put it.  

When a prosecutor asked Russo how many judges over his career did he call and ask "to give you the benefit of the doubt?" Russo said "I would say approximately 10."  

Prosecutors finished their direct questioning of Russo mid-morning, then he was cross-examined by one of Terry's defense attorneys, Angelo Lonardo.

Russo said he helped Terry get appointed to the bench and also helped him with his campaign for election. "For all the help that I gave him, I expected him to do what I asked him to do," Russo told Lonardo, referring to Terry.

In their opening statements Monday, prosecutors alleged that Terry was "bought and paid for" by Russo, including Terry's appointment to the bench in 2006 and his election in 2008.

The defense countered in its opening statement that Terry earned his judicial appointment through his work with the city and county and his own political connections which put his name before the governor.

Before the FBI and IRS agents raided Cuyahoga County offices and homes of elected officials in July, 2008, Russo said "Jimmy (Dimora) was the Cuyahoga County Commissioner and Cuyahoga County Democratic Party chairman. At the time, we were very, very popular."

Russo said he was so popular that the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper endorsed him in every single race he was in "except in 1998, they endorsed (Republican) Mike Wise for auditor but I won."

In this case, Russo said he asked Terry to deny a motion for summary judgment in two cases being handled by a friend.  Court records show that Terry denied both motions for summary judgment. 

Russo first took the stand to begin his testimony on Monday afternoon.

He was called to the stand after an FBI agent presented wiretapped phone conversations in which Russo asked for help in an ongoing mortgage case. Terry is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case.

Russo has already pleaded guilty and faces 21 years in prison in a plea agreement on Sept. 16, 2010. In that agreement, the government agreed not to press additional charges against Russo's son, Vincent; any other Russo family members; or Russo's domestic partner Michael Calabrese.

Why did he take the original plea agreement?

"The government did a good job of collecting evidence against me so I made the first deal," Russo said Tuesday. "I couldn't make right in changing what I did in the 21 charges against me but I thought I could change things afterwards." 

Russo said he was feeling ashamed about all the illegal things he had done. (In addition to going to prison for 21 years, Russo is required to pay restitution to Cuyahoga County of $6.7 million) 

So Russo said he made a second deal with federal prosecutors on Nov. 12, 2010, to testify against other defendants in the corruption probe.

Lonardo asked Russo Tuesday what he expected prosecutors to give him in return for that testimony. Russo said there was no guarantee but he hoped that his truthful testimony would get some of his time in prison reduced.

Russo already testified against former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty in March. She was found guilty on all 10 counts of lying to the FBI and faces up to 50 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Russo was originally required to report to prison May 26 but prosecutors asked that he remain free until late September after he testifies against Terry and in Jimmy Dimora's upcoming trial. But that request was made when Dimora's trial was scheduled to begin Sept. 12.

Now his trial is scheduled to begin the first week in January, 2012.

For now, U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi is allowing Russo to stay out of prison until June 30 and told prosecutors she will revisit that issue at the end of June. 

WKYC-TV

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