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Corruption trials: Haven't heard last from Frank Russo

5:44 PM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
Sketch: Bob Novak
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AKRON -- This isn't the last time former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo will appear on the witness stand in Cuyahoga County corruption trials.

His next appearance is expected to be at the upcoming trial of former Cuyahoga County deputy auditor Samir Mohammad. For now, Mohammad's trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection at 8 a.m. June 8.

If there is a second trial on additional charges for Jimmy Dimora with Michael Forlani as a co-defendant, Russo would also be a witness for the prosecution in that trial. No date has been scheduled for that trial.

When Dimora's current trial was moved from September, 2011, to Jan. 4, U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi, the same judge presiding over the trial of Jimmy Dimora and Michael Gabor, set a new trial date of June 8, 2012 for Mohammad.

Mohammad had first been scheduled for trial April 18, 2011, then it was continued until Nov. 28. Mohammad was first charged on on Sept. 14, 2010, then again on March 30, 2011.

Mohammad is a defendant in the ongoing Cuyahoga County corruption probe that went public on July 28, 2008, and has seen at least 55 defendants plead guilty and four have been been found guilty. Only one defendant was found not guilty.

Mohammad, 45, of Cleveland, already pleaded not guilty to two counts of bribery related to the Small Business Enterprise selection in the $5.26 million GIS project, obstructing the county corruption investigation and lying to the FBI.

Mohammad resigned from his position Sept. 15, 2010, the day after he was indicted.

Mohammad is also charged with racketeering, saying he paid a bribe to Dimora in hopes of securing a job as deputy county administrator in October, 2003.

Records show Mohammad never got the job.

The charges also state that, from 2000 to 2002, Mohammad helped someone bribe Russo in return for auditor's office jobs for relatives and friends.

Prosecutors also allege that, in 2004, Mohammad paid Russo in return for Russo hiring him as his chief deputy at a salary of $119,900.

His indictment alleges the tampering with a witness/victim and that witness has been identified as Daniel P. Gallagher.

Gallagher has been cooperating with federal authorities.

On Feb. 9, 2012, Mohammad's attorney Joe Dubyak filed a motion to have the tampering with a witness charge dismissed. Lioi has yet to rule on that.

According to Dubyak's motion, on Dec. 8, 2008, "Gallagher had installed on his body an audio recording device. Gallagher and defendant Samir Mohammad discussed the federal public corruption investigation."

"During the discussion Gallagher suggested he was going to speak with the FBI because he was scared."

"Mohammad questioned Gallagher and Mohammad suggested Gallagher would be 'stupid to speak with the FBI.'"

"Mohammad also stated in the recorded conversation, 'We are each other's f---ing alibis.'"

"On Dec. 23, 2008, Gallagher, again as a government cooperating witness, and, having an audio recording device on his body, met with Samir Mohammad. During the discussion Mohammad told Gallagher, "They [the FBI] ain't getting nothing out of me... I worry about your a--."

"Mohammad told Gallagher 'we are each other's alibis.' When Gallagher was acting as a cooperating witness, obviously defendant Mohammad was unaware of this fact."

"If the defendant did not know Gallagher was a witness, how could he tamper with a witness?"

Dubyak said tampering with a witness requires an overt act, that is, intimidation, threats, corrupt persuasion, or misleading conduct.

"The actions of Samir Mohammad fail to cross that line. Furthermore, how could Gallagher be tampered with when he is already a cooperating government agent?"

In addition, on Feb. 9, 2012, Dubyak asked the court for an order to compel federal prosecutors to divulge any consideration or promises to be given to any prospective witness in exchange for aid and/or testimony in this case.

Lioi has not ruled on that motion either.

Mohammad's co-defendant, formerbusinessman Sam Qasem, is also charged with racketeering.

Qasem has pleaded not guilty.

Mohammad's bribery charge revolves around allegations that a $5,000 bribe from Mohammad financed a 2003 gambling trip to Windsor, Ontario, Canada, for Dimora, Russo, Kevin Payne, J. Kevin Kelley and others.

The bribe was meant to get Mohammad a promotion. Mohammad didn't get that promotion but did get the job as an administrator in Russo's office.

Mohammad says he didn't pay a bribe.

Federal prosecutors also allege that Mohammad received kickbacks from a county computer contract awarded to Broma Information Technology.

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