Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Trial of Judge Accused of Bribery, Underway in Akron

Judge McCafferty leaves US District Court

Cuyahoga County's corruption scandal is winding down.  If you don't know what I'm referring to, check the link.  In essence several top (mostly, democratic) county politicians in the greater-Cleveland, Ohio area gamed the politics, revenues, business and legal system to enrich themselves, friends and families.  Ensnared in the racketeering by former Cuyahoga County Auditor, Frank Russo and (allegedly) Commissioner Jimmy Dimora were two Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges: Bridget McCafferty and Steven Terry.  In March, McCafferty was convicted of lying to FBI agents about corrupt phone conversations she had with her political bosses; and, the latter's trial is underway in US District Court in nearby Akron, Ohio. 

Noted Plain Dealer reporter, Jim McCarty has a compelling account at today's Cleveland.com.  This is an excerpt:

Judge Terry talks to the Press
Former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo testified Monday that he took a liking to Judge Steven Terry and that is why he ran his 2008 election campaign, donated thousands of dollars in cash and political gifts, and provided the judge with staff and dozens of foot soldiers from the auditor's office.    But the deposed auditor, appearing for the first day of testimony in Terry's public corruption trial, did not provide federal prosecutors with the direct connection they sought to link the campaign assistance to their theory that Russo was setting up the judge for future corrupt purposes.
"He was a nice person but really naive about being a judge," said Russo, who was once the county's largest vote-getter. "He really needed some help. Once you were under my wing, you were in pretty good shape."

Terry faces five charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Testimony began Monday morning in U.S. District Court before Judge Sara Lioi [ . . . ]

Former Commissioner Dimora
 The 53-year-old judge is one of more than 50 officials and contractors implicated in a corruption investigation that became public with FBI raids in July 2008. The chief targets of the investigation were Russo and then-County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora. Dimora has maintained his innocence and is scheduled to go to trial in January.

Russo, who faces nearly 22 years in prison for bribery, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and fraud, has been cooperating with prosecutors in hopes of shortening his sentence [ . . . ]
In an opening statement, a federal prosecutor depicted Terry as a judge more concerned about winning election than administering justice, and so corrupt he was willing to fix a case to curry favor with Russo, his political mentor.   Defense attorney Angelo Lonardo painted a strikingly different portrait of Terry, however. He blamed Russo for deceiving his client, who he portrayed as an innocent victim of Russo's criminal schemes [ . . . ]

Frank Russo
Russo provided Terry with auditor's office employees to work as a bailiff and judicial staff. He also donated campaign contributions, and provided the judge with signs, literature and access to his campaign schedule, which Bacon called "the Bible."
Prosecution witnesses included Mandy Smith, Terry's former bailiff, and Destin Ramsey, Russo's former chief operating officer.

Smith testified that Terry and his staff typically spent afternoons that should have been devoted to court business instead stuffing campaign flyers into envelopes, mapping out election strategies and making political calls.

Ramsey described Russo's interest in Terry as "quite frankly, very odd." Bacon questioned why Ramsey thought Russo was so interested in helping Terry to get elected. "I would assume for the influence, is what it appeared to me," Ramsey testified.

Russo's assistance to Terry came at a price, Bacon said. "He was giving things to buy a judge," Bacon said, "someone he could control."

Russo called in his favors in July 2008, when he asked Terry to rule favorably in a foreclosure lawsuit involving Russo's friend, attorney Joseph O'Malley, Bacon said.   FBI wiretaps of Russo's phone caught him calling Terry: "Judge, I need a favor."

On the tape, Russo could be heard instructing Terry to deny a key motion in a home foreclosure case. Terry later called Russo to report the outcome.

"I just took care of those things, denied everything," Terry told Russo, according to the wiretapped recording. Russo expressed his pleasure with the outcome, and told Terry to expect him and his friend, Dimora, to attend his next campaign fundraiser [ . . . ]
Even assuming that Judge Terry is acquitted of the bribery allegations, this story should give you a great deal of insight into how some of Ohio's judges get, keep, and handle their judicial positions.  Disgusted?  Pissed? 

I'm hoping that Cuyahoga County is an extreme example of this sort of thing, gone wrong; but, I'll bet you--many judges bothering to read this story this morning would be well-advised to look for any resemblance for how business is conducted in their courtrooms and chambers. 

1 comment:

  1. Terry was appointed to the bench by that leftie Governor Ted Strickland. Still to be fair the repubs put a lot of crooks on the bench in Cuyahoga County and all over Ohio throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. It's now what you know, it's who you know, son. And that doesn't even include all the morons named Brown, Corrigan, Celebrezze and Sweeney.