INDEPENDENCE, Ohio - FBI agents entered the house of County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora Wednesday morning and arrested him on federal bribery charges. Dimora pleaded not guilty to all charges of a 28-count indictment and was released on bond.
"It's a beautiful day in Cleveland, Ohio. The sun is shining and I'm looking forward to finishing out my term as county commissioner," Dimora said, after appearing in federal court. Dimora went on to say that he hopes to return to his seat as commissioner next week.
"I've done nothing wrong," he said. "I've had a great tenure, and I've enjoyed my tenure as a public servant, and I want to finish it out."
If he is found guilty of all charges, then he could face up to 60 years in prison and owe $1.25 million in fines. Dimora, 55, former president of the Ohio Democratic party, was part of a county-wide federal probe that also included judges, union leaders and other government employees.
As part of the charges, Dimora has been ordered to avoid contact with all the involved parties, been placed on leave from his duties as county commissioner and has to surrender his passport by 4 p.m. Thursday.
Dimora insisted that he never took bribes or cost the taxpayers money, saying that the corruption probe has been a "Republican witch-hunt from day one."
NewsChannel5 first broke the story online after seeing the agents enter his Independence home and drive him away in handcuffs. The agents arrived in two vehicles and knocked on the door for a few minutes before someone eventually answered. The agents then entered the home, and left with Dimora in handcuffs.
FBI officials also arrested seven others as part of the sting, in three separate indictments.
In addition to Dimora, five others were arrested as part of the 139-page indictment , including Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty, Union Local Business Manager Robert Rybak, Auditor’s office employees Jerry Skuhrovec and Michael Gabor, and former Reliance Mechanical President and CEO William Neiheiser.
The second indictment charged Deputy Chief Auditor Samir Mohammad, and the third indictment charged Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry.
The case against Dimora has been building for two years, and other officials have already been indicted and agreed to testify against him as part of plea deals. Dimora questioned the validity of these testimonies.
"I'm going to defend it, fight it tooth and nail." Dimora said. "I believe that you'll see at the end of the case, once the evidence is produced by our side, that it's a whole lot of people that got in trouble that made up lies or cut deals with the federal government for less jail time."
Nancy Fuerst, the Presiding and Administrative Judge of the County Common Pleas Court, released a the following statement about the day's events: "We are saddened by the developments but the work of the court continues. We are aware of the charges and that the judges were taken into custody. We have contacted the Ohio Supreme Court which will inform us of how to proceed."
Dimora is accused by federal prosecutors of using his public office to gain trips and cash.
Defendants who have already pleaded guilty to related charges told prosecutors they performed free home improvements and even provided Dimora with a prostitute during a trip to Las Vegas. But it was a halfway house in Cleveland that got the attention of the FBI in July 2009.
Brian Schuman ran Alternative Agency Inc. and pleaded guilty to bribing Dimora in return for being awarded the $250,000 contract for his agency.
Schuman also admitted he conspired with former county employee J. Kevin Kelley and paid for trips to Las Vegas and New Orleans, expensive meals and at least $1,000 for personal services for Dimora.
The halfway house also involved former Lakewood Mayor and State Senator Anthony Sinagra.
Sinagra pleaded guilty to taking nearly $200,000 in fees from Schuman's agency while performing little or no work. Sinagra has pleaded guilty to bribing Kelley, who was also a Parma School Board member, in return for contracts with the district.
Prosecutors also alleged Dimora received thousands of dollars in free work at his home.
Cleveland businessman Steve Pumper pled guilty to providing home improvements, plus $33,000 in cash, in exchange for county business.
But the most explosive allegations came from Cleveland businessman Ferris Kleem who told federal prosecutors that he bribed both Dimora and Russo in return for contracts and claimed to have paid $1,000 for a prostitute for Dimora while in Las Vegas.
- Explanation of all charges and potential jail time: http://media2.newsnet5.com/uploads/charges_explained.pdf