On the Line
The Cuyahoga County corruption probe, which seems like it’s been running longer than Law & Order, could use a new executive producer.
As the second anniversary of the massive July 2008 FBI raids approaches, the hangdog parade of chastened lawyers and lobbyists, contractors and employees into federal court has lost its novelty. Their admissions of graft and greed as they cop pleas in exchange for their future testimony, presumably against Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo — pardon, Public Official 1 and Public Official 2 — have taken on a depressing, sleazeball sameness.
The investigation isn’t even generating much good gossip anymore. PO1 and PO2 must be feeling each turn of the screw exquisitely, but the audience has grown restless, peeking at their watches and wondering when the good part starts. Even the introduction in April of an engaging new character, the Chatty Prostitute, did little to stem our seat-squirming.
And 24 months don’t begin to tell the tale. The public may have first learned of the investigation when the FBI swept through the county office building and took that fridge from Dimora’s home, but it may have been going on since Law & Order’s Jack McCoy was a passionate young assistant district attorney and Lennie Briscoe was still on the force.
Who knows when the feds first started pulling on the string, but county treasurer Jim Rokakis heard the FBI was asking questions as long as five years ago. “It was hardly a secret they were nosing around,” he says.
Dimora and Russo’s detractors and their defenders — yes, there are some — agree on one thing: This has gone on way too long.
Think of all that’s happened in the past two years.
In July 2008, John Edwards was still denying his affair, and Tiger Woods wasn’t even suspected of his 16.
In July 2008, Lehman Brothers was still two months away from going under and taking the U.S. housing market with it, and Tina Fey had never even heard of Sarah Palin, let alone done an impression of her.
Here at the epicenter of the hit reality series America’s Longest Investigation, the transformation is more profound than any of those changes.
Who could have imagined two years ago that the entire Cuyahoga County government — a venerable institution that’s been around since Moses Cleaveland was first hit up to buy a fundraising ticket to a pig roast — would be dynamited by voters, turning most of the current officeholders into Dead POs Walking?
Yet through it all, Dimora and Russo just keep putt-putting along, banging their little Energizer Bunny drums and collecting their public salaries.
If I were the feds, what I’d really be worrying about is that the longer the show goes on, the more obvious the flaws in the story line become.
The Jimmy character has proven particularly troublesome. Over the course of the two years he has gone from blustery, combative and spitting mad to subdued, withdrawn and mopey, back to blustery, combative and spitting mad.
Most recently he has been in high they-ain’t-got-nothing-on-me dudgeon: He may have accepted a quid or a pro here and there, but good luck trying to prove he ever gave anybody a quo in return. And he pays for his own massages, thank you very much.
Self-serving though his defense might be, the longer prosecutors go without charging him, the more people are beginning to wonder if maybe Jimmy’s right and they don’t have the goods on him.
But a plot hole you could drive a contractor’s truck through has become even more obvious over time. From the moment the feds designated him PO1, Dimora has enjoyed top billing as the presumed leader of the gang, Butch to Russo’s Sundance. That was easy enough to follow originally, given Dimora’s higher public profile and more outsized personality.
But time has revealed the real No. 1 beyond any doubt, ever since prosecutors claimed Russo netted an eye-popping $1.2 million in alleged kickbacks from an appraisal company.
All of Dimora’s alleged graft, from limo rides to “personal services,” fades into cheesy insignificance by comparison. If the allegations turns out to be true, Russo not only has a federal prison cell waiting for him, but a guaranteed first-ballot induction into the Crooked Politicians Hall of Fame.
PO2, indeed. Reputations are at stake here. Not to stick up for the guy, but fair is fair. The feds should stop whatever they are doing right now until they can correct this egregious error.
No, wait! Forget I said that!
12:00 AM EST
May 21, 2010