Judge Reduces Sentence For Former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo
Former Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo has been granted a reduced sentence from 22 years to 14 years in federal prison.
The 69-year-old has been beset by physical ailments including heart disease and diabetes. He’s had three heart operations since being incarcerated in late 2012. Russo, wearing an oxygen tube, appeared in court Thursday by video conference from a Massachusetts prison.
His lawyer Roger Synenberg argued that Russo’s cooperation with federal prosecutors in the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal that sent to jail his friend, former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, merited a shorter sentence. They asked the court to cut his sentence in half.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Miller said Russo waited too long, over a year and a half, before coming forward.
“Timing is important here. Some cases had a five year statute of limitations,” said Miller. “And moving quickly was important to restore public trust.” She noted that 46 people had been charged before Russo cut a deal and the government was already getting information from them.
Former Cuyahoga County employee J. Kevin Kelley, who’d been given a significant sentencing reduction had agreed to cooperate in July 2008.
When Lioi questioned Russo’s contributions Miller said, “We value what he did, but there are practical limitations based on an 843 day delay.”
But didn’t Russo offer more than Kelley?
“Volume doesn’t equal value,” said Miller, adding Russo’s ability to disclose a large amount of information “based on his own involvement rewards the most culpable.”
Synenberg argued that the government did not fairly value Russo’s help when compared to other defendants who had been given reduced sentences in return for cooperation. He acknowledged his client did not agree “to talk on the first day” but noted that Kelley is now free, living off his pension in Florida.
Russo gave up his state pension and paid nearly $7 million in restitution.
Synenberg also compared Russo’s case to that of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn who may receive no prison time at the suggestion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller.
Russo watched the three hour debate between attorneys before making a comment. He said he worked “very, very hard” to help prosecutors on the case and is “shocked” at the way they now see it.
Judge Sara Lioi said a reduction to 11 years was inappropriate. She cited the government's argument that Russo was not timely in his cooperation with federal investigators, having waited 843 days after the investigation became public. At that point, he could not be “proactive” by going undercover and wearing a wire.
Russo agreed to cooperate after the grand jury indicted his son Vince Russo. By that time, they said, much of the information he provided had already been provided by other defendants.
Synenberg said Thursday with his client’s good behavior, Russo could be released after a total of 11.9 years.
He had been slated to be released in November 2031 when he would be 82. Russo and his lawyers said that amounts to a life sentence.
The judge is recommending to the Bureau of Prisons that Russo be moved to a facility in North Carolina which can better manage his health problems.
Corruption in Cuyahoga County
Russo was on the witness stand for several days during Dimora’s trial. He generally avoided eye contact with old pal and usually spoke directly to the jury when answering questions about the scandal that saw officials accept bribes in return for helping companies win county contracts.
Evidence showed the Russo pocketed more than $1 million in bribes and kickbacks from companies hoping to win public contracts and employees he helped place on county payrolls.
Russo also testified in the trials of Dimora’s assistant Michael Gabor and Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judges Stephen Terry and Bridget McCafferty.
Frank Russo (seated) with Jimmy Dimora (right) and Dimora’s assistant Michael Gabor at Dimora’s home. [U.S. Department of Justice]