CLEVELAND - For more than a year, there were only rumors that the person referred to as “Public Official 2” in federal court documents was Frank Russo.
The first time the former Cuyahoga County auditor’s name appeared in connection with the corruption probe was on the jury questionnaire for MetroHealth Medical Center executive Thomas Greco Jr. in 2010.
Russo auditor stepped down from his elected office on Sept. 9, 2010, just before a 21-count criminal information was filed. The information said that Russo participated in numerous bribery schemes beginning in March 1998 and continuing through May 2009, all while serving as auditor.
In a letter addressed to county commissioners, Russo wrote, “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.”
An indictment said 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.
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.
According to a criminal information, contractor Ronald Romanini installed a $25,000 roof on Russo’s home in 2007, but never received any direct payment for it. The information alleged that Romanini sold scrap copper from the roof job for $10,000 and applied it to the cost of the project, but he made no attempts to collect the remaining $15,000 after submitting initial invoices to Russo. Federal officials said Russo then gave Romanini’s brother-in-law, who worked under Russo, two raises – one in April 2007 and another in February 2008. Romanini eventually pleaded guilty for his involvement.
Between 2005 and 2008, then-director of the Information Services Center in Cuyahoga County Daniel Weaver gave Russo birthday and Christmas gifts in the form of $50 ties and $100 gift cards, according to the Department of Justice. He gave Russo $1,000 or $2,000 on multiple occasions and the Department of Justice even said Russo would call, asking for Weaver’s credit card number when he was out to dinner. Weaver even bought Christmas gifts for Russo’s children and grandchildren, including iPods and Xbox game systems. He also paid for a tiki bar that costs $600 for the former auditor. All of the items totaled around $29,000.
According to court documents, “Russo would perform official acts for the benefit of Weaver.” Russo did not give anything of value to Weaver, authorities said. Weaver pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison.
As for Russo, he agreed to a plea deal in September 2011 and was sentenced to 22 years in prison in exchange for his testimony. He has yet to report to prison until after he takes the stand in Jimmy Dimora’s trial, which started in January. He already testified against former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty.
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