CLEVELAND - Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo resigned Thursday just before charges were filed in connection with the largest and most widespread corruption probe in Ohio history.
Russo resigned by letter to Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones at about 9 a.m., said Jim McCafferty, spokesman for the commissioners.
Russo, 60, of Bratenahl, was then charged at 9:30 a.m. in a 21-count criminal Information in connection with the Cuyahoga County public corruption investigation.
He is expected to hold a news conference at any time this morning. Peter Lawson Jones is also expected to talk at 10:30 a.m.
Federal prosecutors allege that Russo enriched himself at the expense of taxpayers.
The information charges Russo participated in numerous bribery schemes beginning in March 1998 and continuing through May 2009, all while serving as auditor.
Specifically, it charges that Russo solicited and accepted things of value, such as cash, home improvements and travel to Las Vegas in exchange for county contracts, jobs, raises, reductions in tax valuations and other official favors.
The information also charges that Russo gave Joseph Gallucci a job and cash in exchange for running a sham campaign against him. In addition, the Information charges that Russo filed false tax returns for the years 2004 through 2008 and that he obstructed justice.
“An era of corruption is coming to an end because of the work of incredibly dedicated FBI agents, IRS agents and federal prosecutors who will not rest until their work is done,” said Frank Figliuzzi, Special Agent in Charge of the Cleveland Division of the FBI.
“Elected public officials hold positions of trust in the eyes of the public,” said Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division.
“That trust is broken when these officials commit crimes. No public official gets a free pass to ignore tax laws, and the IRS Criminal Investigation unit works to ensure that everyone pays their fair share.”
The accusations were made by business associates who have already pleaded guilty to bribing Russo in return for favors.
When FBI agents raided the county office in July 2008, some of the evidence they carried away pointed directly to a private company that Russo hired to perform commercial audits.
VAS Enterprises received $21 million in contracts from taxpayers. But federal prosecutors said Russo hired the company in exchange for kickbacks.
And it was Sandy Klimkowski, a Russo top aide who oversaw appraisals for her boss, who blew the whistle.
Klimkowski told prosecutors she funneled more than $1 million in cash to her boss. She admitted taking $154,000 for herself. Prosecutors said the bribes were paid to Russo by a law firm hired by VAS.
In September 2009, attorneys Timothy Armstrong and Bruce Zaccagnini pleaded guilty in the bribery scheme.
Prosecutors also allege that Russo has thousands of dollars in free work performed at his home.
Cleveland businessman Dinesh Bafna and John Valentin both pleaded guilty to providing kitchen and bathroom improvements in exchange for favors from Russo.
Russo is expected to hold a news conference Thursday morning.
- 58-page information: http://media2.newsnet5.com/uploads/wews_Russo-Information.pdf
- Federal news release: http://media2.newsnet5.com/uploads/wews_Russo-NewsRelease2.pdf
WEB EXTRA: Here is Frank Russo's resignation letter, which was addressed to county commissioners:
I humbly submit my resignation as auditor of Cuyahoga County with deep heart-felt gratitude for the opportunity to have served the citizens of Cuyahoga County for the past 26 years.
I apologize to anyone I have harmed for any decision I made that embarrassed or caused any harm to my office.
Here is a list of the 21 charges:
1) 18 U.S.C. § 1951, Hobbs Act Conspiracy
Bribery related to $21,480,000 in County Commercial Appraisal
Contracts (Page 11)
2) 18 U.S.C. § 1951, Hobbs Act Conspiracy
Bribery related to a $250,000 County Contract (Page 14)
3) 18 U.S.C. § 371 Conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. § 666
Bribery related to the Juvenile Justice Center and other projects (Page 17)
4) 18 U.S.C. § 1349 Mail Fraud Conspiracy
Bribery related to Sheriff’s Office employment (Page 23)
5) 18 U.S.C. § 1951 Hobbs Act
Bribery related to County personnel decisions for Russo’s relative (Page 27)
6) 18 U.S.C. § 1349 Mail Fraud Conspiracy
Bribery related to the 2006 Auditor’s Office election (Page 28)
7) 18 U.S.C. § 1512 Obstruction
Obstruction related to Count 6 (Page 32)
8) 18 U.S.C. § 1341 Mail Fraud
Bribery related to Auditor’s Office personnel decisions for several County employees (Page 34)
9) 18 U.S.C. § 1951 Hobbs Act Conspiracy
Bribery related to County hiring decisions for Valentin’s designees and residential and commercial property valuations for Bafna (Page 37)
10) 18 U.S.C. § 1349 Mail Fraud Conspiracy
Bribery related to pending litigation (Page 39)
11) 18 U.S.C.