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Russo: "I had put everybody in the jackpot"

10:57 AM, Feb 15, 2012   |    comments
Sketch: Bob Novak
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AKRON -- Star witness Frank Russo says he protected his family when he made his plea agreement with federal prosecutors, how he reacted to the initial FBI raid on July 28, 2008, and that he even took more bribes after that initial raid.

Russo, 62, of Bratenahl, took the witness stand just before 9 a.m. Wednesday for his second day of testimony in the corruption trial of former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and co-defendant Michael Gabor.

Dimora, 56, of Independence, was charged with 36 counts, including bribery, conspiracy and racketeering and Gabor, 52, of Parma, is charged with bribery and conspiracy. Both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon finished her questioning of Russo just after 9 a.m. and then Russo was cross-examined by Dimora's defense attorney Bill Whitaker.

In the morning testimony, Russo, who is facing 22 years in prison after pleading guilty to 21 charges and making a plea agreement with prosecutors, said the first time his "in-group" became aware that the FBI was around was May 23, 2008.

He said the in-group got together for lunch at Yours Truly on May 24, 2008, in Independence because they were reluctant to talk to each other in the phone out of the fear that the FBI had wiretapped their phones.

"...I learned on a Saturday morning sometime at the end of May that the FBI had just busted Steve Pumper for giving a bribe...got a call that we should all meet at Yours Truly in Independence..." Russo testified.

"...but we heard that the FBI wasn't talking just about Jimmy and me but about Jimmy Dimora and friends..."

When he got to Yours Truly, he said "...the usual characters were sitting at the round table...but the mood was different....."

After that meeting, Russo testified, that "...the group didn't fall apart but part of the group was active in getting an invoice, or invoices....they got nervous enough to cover their tracks...."

Later that day, Russo said that "I did get a phone call...from Jimmy Dimora and Steve Pumper had hired an attorney, George Argie...and Jimmy was meeting with George Argie...Jimmy felt very comfortable after talking to George Argie....saying we weren't the focus of the investigation..."

"He said he sent Mike Gabor over to see Ferris Kleem and fill him in on the story...any messages Steve Pumper needed to get to Jimmy went through Mike Gabor..."

Russo also described what happened the day the FBI raided his home in Mayfield Village on July 28, 2008.

"...we were at my house, I was still in bed, my partner Michael was already up making the coffee....the doorbell rang...Michael got the door..." Russo testified.

"The FBI asked if Frank Russo was here...they searched my home from 9 a.m. to 3:30 or 4 o'clock...for the first few hours, I didn't know others were involved....then we started hearing helicopters overhead...it was Channel 19, and this station, and that station..."

"For the rest of the day, I just sat there in shock..."

Russo was asked by Bacon that, if the FBI hadn't arrived, would Russo and his friends have continued their schemes?

"We'd never stop, it would continue to grow and grow...I didn't have any plans on stopping it...it was part of out life..." Russo said.

Under cross-examination by Dimora's defense attorney Bill Whitaker, Russo testified about former Cuyahoga County deputy auditor Samir Mohammad. Russo said Mohammad bribed him for a job and for jobs for his friends and relatives.

Mohammad, who is represented by attorney Joe Dubyak, for now is scheduled to go on trial here in Akron June 8, charged with multiple counts of bribery. 

"Samir Mohammad paid more than $5,000 for his job....he paid 10 or 15 thousand for his job...because Mohammad wanted out of the Recorder's office and wanted another higher position in the auditor's office..." Russo testified.

"He gave me a total of $40,000 of $20,000 each on two separate occasions...for hiring a certain contractor in the GIS department..."

Russo also testified about Mohammad's co-defendant Sam Qasem, saying "he gave me money for his mother, his girlfriend, his son, over a $1,000 per job...," Russo testified.

How did people bribe you, Russo was asked?

"At my fundraisers, people would put money in your pocket...$20...$50...and once there was an envelope with $2,000 in my pocket....Dan Blessing paid me $2,000-$3,000 and gave campaign contributions for steering printing business to him...Dan gave us both money, both Jimmy and I..." Russo testified.

Russo also said another employee paid him for a job, saying "Dan Weaver, yes, he's worked for me....he paid me about $3,000 per job...for his brother and sister...he paid me money for a raise, somewhere between five and ten thousand dollars he paid me...'

Russo also testified how hard it was for him to testify and to make a plea agreement with prosecutors but he did it to protect his family.

"This is a very, very hard thing for me to do at this point, with Mike Gabor and Jimmy..." he said. He talked about his son and daughters.

Regarding his son, Vincent Russo, who is now serving an 18-month prison term, Russo said "...the business people I was working with...the benefit was, my son was charged with a crime, I have a very close family, we were running out of money and I had put everybody in the jackpot....I said let me cooperate and that was the second time I came to government..."

He not only protected his son and daughters but he also protected Michael Calabrese.

"Michael Calabrese is my life partner, my domestic partner....there was nothing I was really afraid of that he would be prosecuted for...," Russo said.

His plea agreement also contained the fact that the Marous Construction Company would not be charged.

"...Marous....he is my son-in-law....no charges against his construction company either..." Russo testified.

Even after the raid on July 28, 2008 Russo said he continued to take bribes.

"...me and Jimmy....we were very powerful, we were inseparable.... in October 2008 and December 2008...there were two bribes paid to me....the last payment was $5,000 and the one before that was for $2,000," Russo testified.

WKYC-TV

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