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Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora's prison sentence reduced to 23 years

Dimora is expected to continue appealing his sentence, which data show is double the time given other convicted politicians

CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora had his prison sentence reduced to 23 years, a term that data show is double the time given to elected officials convicted in similar corruption cases.

The 5-year reduction came during a two-hour sentencing hearing scheduled after an earlier appeals court ruled in Dimora's favor.

Dimora was seeking a far lower sentence and his attorney said after Wednesday's hearing that another round of appeals is likely.

"I'm glad the judge reduced his sentence by five years, but disappointed it wasn't more," said Dimora's attorney, Philip Kushner.

Kushner presented stats compiled by a federal sentencing commission that showed elected officials like Dimora received on average a 12-year term.

Federal prosecutors did not dispute the statistics, but instead argued that Dimora's "egregious conduct"  warranted the heftier stint.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Miller said in court that the "scope and breadth" of Dimora's crimes "is essentially unfathomable." 

Appearing via video, Dimora did not give a statement prior to being sentenced and showed little outward emotion when he was given the 23-year term.

Throughout the hearing, Dimora remained seated in a wheelchair, dressed in a beige prison jumpsuit and wearing dark-framed eyeglasses. His familiar dark beard is now gray and a surgical mask dangled off his ear.

"I have nothing more to add than what Mr. Kushner has submitted to the court. Thank you," Dimora replied when asked by the judge if he wished to make a statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi was unmoved by Dimora's claims of now being in poor health and old age. Nor did she accept arguments that any sentence within the federal guidelines would create a disparity.

Federal guidelines called for a sentence of 19.5 to 24.5 years in prison. Dimora's attorneys said data shows 93 percent of inmates receive a term below the guidelines.

But Lioi said there are "problems with data" when it is broadly applied.

"Any disparity that may exist is not unwarranted, but necessary and well-warranted given the facts of this particular case," Lioi said.

In court papers filed in preparation for Wednesday’s hearing, Dimora’s attorneys cited his failing health, his advanced age, and the apparent disparity of the 28-year sentence he received Lioi as reasons for a lower prison term. They argued that his sentence should fall more in line with data from similar cases, which they say would put his sentence at 12 years.

Lioi was unmoved and repeated many of the words she uttered when sentencing Dimora to 28 years in 2012, a sentence that even many of Dimora's critics panned as excessive.

Federal prosecutors questioned the extent of Dimora’s health problems and said his sentence is inline with other corrupt politicians.

Kushner said in his written motion that Dimora’s age and poor health should warrant his release.

“He has a heart defect (atrial fibrillation), an intestinal disorder (diverticulitis), an inner-ear equilibrium problem (Meniere’s disease), and a knee which requires replacement. He suffered a stroke, is diabetic, and is in a wheelchair,” Kushner wrote.

Dimora also had two bouts of Covid-19.

Dimora, who turns 67 on June 21, has been appealing his case and his 28-year sentence since a jury convicted him in July 2012 on 32 counts, including the Hobbs Act, bribery, and other charges.

Federal prosecutors say Dimora, a former Cuyahoga County Commissioner and head of the county Democrats, “used his office to engage in a series of wide-ranging bribery and fraud schemes wherein he ‘received over $250,000 in bribes, including ‘home renovations, expensive dinners, trips, . . . and encounters with prostitutes’.”

Miller downplayed Dimora’s claims of poor health and age as reason to reduce his sentence.

“Whether considered alone or in combination, neither circumstance is particularly noteworthy for Dimora, and neither warrants a [lower sentence],” Miller wrote.

Dimora and Auditor Frank Russo, longtime political allies, were considered the prize targets in a sweeping federal investigation into government corruption that netted indictments against over 70 people.

Dimora and Russo, however, took two very different approaches to their indictments.

While Dimora denied involvement in any crimes, Russo admitted accepting over $1 million in bribes and favors and agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.

That cooperation forced him to testify against fellow defendants, including Dimora. For his efforts, Russo was awarded his freedom, albeit short-lived.

Russo was originally sentenced to 22 years in prison, but his cooperation meant he’d never come close to serving the sentence. The sentence was reduced to 14 years, but he was granted early release in May 2020 due to his age and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lioi did not order Russo’s release. In fact, she may not have been aware that Russo was free until media reports began to appear showing that a prison warden, using federal law, granted Russo’s request for “compassionate release” from the Butner, North Carolina, federal prison.

The law allows wardens to release inmates in poor health or advanced age so long as they have served half of their original sentence. Russo served nearly eight years of his 14-year sentence.

After his release, Russo, 72, lived in a Willoughby Hills home until dying suddenly in April.

He never made a payment on the $6 million in restitution he agreed to pay after his conviction, court records show.

Dimora has consistently insisted on his innocence.

In a 2018 interview with 3News, Dimora claimed Russo was the true "Godfather" of the criminal operation and that Russo had "made a deal with the devil."

"I'm not talking about the government," Dimora clarified. "I actually mean Russo made a deal with the devil."

Dimora’s appeals received new life when the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case in 2016 involving former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell which tightened the legal definition of an “official act” taken by a political figure in the course of their duty.

Dimora’s legal team believed the McDonnell decision would sharply reduce the Democrat’s sentence. However, a divided U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel disagreed in a 2-1 ruling.

In a scathing dissent, appellate Judge Gilbert Stroud Merritt Jr. wrote he would have overturned Dimora's convictions and ordered he be given a new trial.

“...there is no question [Lioi] erroneously instructed the jury in light of [the McDonnell decision],” Merritt wrote.

He said a new trial is more proper, given the volume of evidence and passage of time.

“That is why I would vacate all of Dimora’s convictions in this appeal and remand for a new trial, because the only proper fact-finding body for these issues is a properly instructed jury that considers Dimora’s ethics reports---not appellate judges and not a district court reviewing 30,000 page records of a 37-day trial it heard eight years ago.”

In the end, just two of the 32 convictions were tossed, setting up the resentencing hearing before Lioi.

“More than corruption, obstruction of justice or tax fraud …it was all of these things and for a long and sustained period of time.” Lioi said when issuing her sentence on Wednesday.

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