AKRON, Ohio - Jimmy Dimora did not appear to be feeling any love for his former friend and political ally Frank Russo on Valentine's Day.
Russo testified against Dimora, affirming all of the prosecutor's claims that Dimora ran a criminal enterprise through his former positions as commissioner and Democratic party chairman.
The jury heard Russo talk about many home improvements at Dimora's home that they'd already heard about from other witnesses. The difference in court on Tuesday afternoon was the jury was hearing it from a man once considered to be one of the most powerful in Cuyahoga County politics.
In one wiretap played for the jury, Russo said about Dimora, "Yeah, for food he'll do anything." Russo was referring to several 'sponsored' dinners the two had. That meant the meals were paid for by people who wanted to do business with the county, or wanted special favors from either himself or Dimora, Russo said.
Russo testified he heard Dimora talk to Judge Bridgette McCafferty about Steve Pumper's court case . Pumper went to a fundraiser where he and Dimora were leaving. Russo said before the friends left, Dimora said to McCafferty, "'You've got to get a handle on it, put a grip on it', and she was nodding up and down," Russo testified.
Pumper pleaded guilty to bribery charges. McCafferty is in federal prison.
About Dimora's home improvements, Russo testified Dimora was very involved with all of the projects. "He loved to deal with the contractors and he loved to get things organized," Russo said. "he would explain to everybody what to do … what he wanted done."
Another contractor prosecutors say did work at Dimora's home for free was William Neiheiser, formerly of Reliance Mechanical. Russo said in return, Dimora told him he helped Neiheiser with the Winterhurst ice rink deal in Lakewood.
"(Dimora) was b itchin ' to me the day before he had to get a hold of the mayor in Lakewood," Russo said. "And blah blah blah, and blah blah blah. He said, 'boy, I made a phone call and boom, they've got a meeting before I blinked my eyes.' (Dimora) said he was shocked," Russo testified. The meeting was between then-mayor Ed FitzGerald, who is now county executive, and who has not been charged.
"When we introduced someone to you as our friend, they took it very, very, very seriously," Russo testified. "We were the two most powerful people in Cleveland – in Cuyahoga County. We were intimidating. We really got noticed."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoinette Bacon asked Russo how such bribery and corruption could go on for so long. Russo answered they were careful and operated within a very small group. They never took bribes without an intermediary, and they turned down many cash bribes, he said, including $10,000 cash in a brown paper bag, he said.
Russo said the small group used the county 'mechanisms' to enrich themselves. "We should have been helping people, but we were helping ourselves," Russo testified.
He went on to explain how he thought his criminal activity seemed more like a business. The calls for favors just kept coming in, he said.
Russo's direct exam is expected to resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Russo will be sentenced following this trial and others in connection with the corruption probe. He faces more than 20 years on prison.
Dimora and co-defendant Michael Gabor maintain their innocence on all federal charges.