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Investigator: Evidence against Russo was piling up

3:20 PM, Sep 10, 2010   |    comments
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The 58-page information (pdf) charging Russo lists 57 individuals and businesses who seem to have the goods on the 60-year old former auditor, who resigned as the deal was made public.

Nearly three dozen public officials and businessmen have already pleaded guilty or been charged in the ongoing investigation.

A number of others could have been potential witnesses, based on the charges filed today by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Federal prosecutors identified almost 20 public officials and employees who engaged in criminal wrongdoing with Russo, including three judges.

Among those is Public Official 16, who is believed to be Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Steven Terry.

The feds say Public Official 16 solicited favors, cash and other items from Russo in return for favorable treatment in a court case for Russo's former advisor, attorney Joe O'Malley.

O'Malley pleaded guilty to lying to the feds about fixing court cases and failing to report a bribery conspiracy involving Russo.

Then there is Public Official 4, believed to be Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty.

Prosecutors noted in the charges that Public Official 4 intervened in two cases for Russo and that Russo provided campaign help in exchange.

Phone calls to Terry and McCafferty were not returned.

Even without the help of those unnamed and uncharged officials, it is clear that prosecutors had more than enough witnesses to make a case against Russo.

Former county employee and Parma school board member J. Kevin Kelley was expected to testify that he arranged for Alternatives Agency, a halfway house, to take Russo on an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas.

Ferris Kleem was expected to back up Kelley if called.

Kleem, a former exec at Blaze Construction, chipped in thousands for the Vegas trip in return for a different contract.  Prosecutors recorded Russo telling an employee that Kleem was "gonna have whores and he's got a tiki hut by the pool."

Then there's Russo's childhood friend and close associate, Sandy Klimkowski. She was prepared to testify that she acted as Russo's bagman for more than a decade, delivering nearly $1.25 million in cash kickbacks from contractors.

Kevin Payne, the former chief of staff for the county engineer, and his predecessor, Daniel Gallagher, also admitted they worked with Kelley on arranging bribes for Russo.

Both cut deals that required them to testify against Russo.

Finally, a number of public employees and contractors were lined up to say Russo received free home improvements in return for contracts.

A former federal prosecutor and defense attorney says that while Russo probably knew the case was an uphill battle, the biggest motivator was likely the pressure on his family and friends.

"The dynamic that you can't fully appreciate until you're in it is the extraordinary pressure that it has on their families and their relationships with their close friends," said Cleveland State University Provost Geoffrey Mearns.

"Because these individuals have held themselves out as honorable public servants."

Russo also told his top aide that he wanted to make things easier on son, Vince, who has also been charged in the corruption probe for bribing public officials.


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