AKRON, Ohio - John Kevin Kelley rose to the top to be a key player in Jimmy Dimora's "A-Team." But the next team he plays on might be the prison courtyard team.
On Friday, Kelley finished a grueling week of testimony and grilling cross-examination. He was taken by ambulance from the courthouse on Tuesday for a "health matter" that arose during the morning trial break but returned to the witness stand on Thursday morning.
Down to his very last day on the witness stand, Kelley worked to present himself as confident, matter-of-fact and in control of the conversation. But Friday may have been the final time, at least for the next six years, Kelley will be the center of attention, power and influence he grew accustomed to having for nearly two decades.
Kelley, age 42, maneuvered his way through Parma and Cuyahoga County political networks known for being some of the most incestuous, cut-throat roads to travel in local politics. At the time in his early 20s, Kelley was elected as a Parma city councilman in 1993 and went on to be elected to serve in 2000 as a school board member for the Parma City School District, where over the course of nine years he rose to the position of board president.
Along the way, Kelley said he also worked 18 years in county government, rising to an annual salary of more than $140,000 in his last position with the county engineer's office. In addition to his county job and nominal payments for attending school board meetings, Kelley said he simultaneously raked in tens of thousands of dollars running a private consulting business and pocketing bribes.
Kelley appeared to be on a political fast track up to the point of running for Parma's open mayoral position in 2002. But Kelley testified that county prosecutor Bill Mason and then-county recorder Pat O'Malley, who Kelley said then-Auditor Frank Russo referred to as "the Parma boys," backed mayoral candidate Dean DePiero and wanted Kelley out of the race.
Russo cut a deal with Kelley for a $90,000-a-year job and four-day work week if Kelley dropped out of the Parma mayoral race, Kelley testified. Kelley backed out of the race for mayor and in doing so was thrust into what Kelley described as the "A-Team," the inner circle of two of the most powerful persons in county government, Frank Russo and then-county commissioner Jimmy Dimora.
From 2002 until the FBI raids on county offices in July 2008, Kelley had his hands in almost every scheme federal prosecutors have presented so far in the corruption trial including:
- Lobbying Dimora and Russo to help restore to the county budget cut funding for the Alternatives Agency, a private county-funded contractor that gave Kelley thousands of dollars in "consulting" fees in exchange for Kelley's lobbying performed while he was also a county employee.
- Coordinating and attending casino gambling trips to Las Vegas, Niagara Falls, New Orleans and Windsor, Canada, paid for by "sponsors" he helped obtain who were contractors and/or county officials prosecutors say wanted to influence Dimora and Russo.
- Serving as a middleman for Michael Gabor's alleged attempt to bribe a domestic relations court judge to fix Gabor's divorce case.
- Using his position as a Parma City School District board member to dish out school jobs in exchange for political favors for Dimora, himself and others, and taking bribes in connection with school district contracts along the way.
- Playing intermediary for Dimora to get FirstEnergy company electrical connections expedited for a Berea apartment building built by Ferris Kleem, a contractor who prosecutors said gave numerous things of value to Dimora in order to buy Dimora's influence on county contracts.
- Serving as an initial intermediary for Russo with Joseph Gallucci, who admitted running a sham 2006 election for county auditor against Russo in exchange for $20,000 in cash and a job in Russo's office paying more than $67,000 plus benefits.
- Helping to set up poker parties and arrange prostitutes to perform 'sex work' sessions for Dimora and Michael Gabor at a Flats condo owned by a company with a county contract.
Kelley also drove Dimora around the county three or four times a week, and arranged for "sponsors" who were often private contractors that paid for dinners for Dimora, Russo and members of their "A-Team." Kelley testified he, too, was personally serviced by prostitutes.
Although Kelley is on the second tier of the 18-person conspiracy pyramid federal prosecutors presented to jurors in their opening statement, his position and testimony suggest he was the third most powerful in the alleged federal conspiracy, only topped by Dimora and Russo themselves.
While Kelley clearly wanted money and power, it also appears he wanted friends, acceptance and inclusion. "Hey buddy" and "see ya buddy" were common expressions in wiretap conversations involving Kelley, and wiretap conversations suggest he thrived on the relationships, access