Jimmy Dimora was untouchable. He ruled Cuyahoga County — the government and the Democratic Party, which were synonymous — through chumminess, crass humor and fear. And he won his last election easily.
Then Dimora’s empire collapsed, on July 28, 2008, when FBI and IRS agents raided his office. Sordid tales of bribery followed: Nearly $250,000 in cash and prizes — casino trips, thousand-dollar dinners, strippers, hookers and a backyard tiki paradise. Voters, disgusted, threw all the bums out, approving an entirely new county government.
The last time I saw Dimora — July 31, 2012, in Akron’s federal courthouse — he’d just been sentenced to 28 years in prison on 33 counts of bribery, extortion, racketeering, tax evasion and fraud. Crossing the courtroom slowly, with a walker, his once-formidable frame stooped, Dimora was defiant and bitter. “You’re good storytellers,” he sniped at the FBI agents who’d worked to put him away. Even today, as he pursues yet another appeal, Dimora doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.
Cleveland disagrees. Dimora’s conviction ended the local era of deep corruption masked as mere cronyism. Frank Russo, the million-dollar-bribed county auditor; sheriff Gerald McFaul, who forced his employees to raise campaign funds; and Nate Gray, whose payoff-pocketing consultant shtick tainted the legacy of his pal, Mayor Mike White — all exploited a permissive culture that Cleveland purged a decade ago. Now, no politician wants to risk the sort of sentence Dimora is serving.
Even the recent investigations into county executive Armond Budish prove how much has changed. They turned up low-level wrongdoing and made Budish (who wasn’t charged) look incompetent.
County prosecutor Mike O’Malley was among those who investigated in the sort of probe his predecessor, Bill Mason, used to claim his office was ill-equipped to do. Mason, now Budish’s chief of staff, reportedly threatened O’Malley with a primary opponent unless he dropped the investigation (which Mason denies).
But the inquiry didn’t stop, the story came out, and Budish announced he wouldn’t run for reelection. Once untouchable, Cleveland’s politicians are now accountable — and replaceable.