In a quiet courtroom you could hear the sound of handcuffs and shackles being locked onto the wrists of Jimmy Dimora and Michael Gabor as U.S. marshals took them into custody.
Federal Judge Sara Lioi had recessed for about 20 minutes to consider arguments over their bonds and to consider alternatives such as house arrest in the months before they’re sentenced.
In the end she decided that – “given the nature of their crimes and the underlying behavior with deception and disregard for the law, we cannot decide they would NOT be a flight risk.”
Cleveland State University Provost Geoffery Mearns is a former federal prosecutor. He wasn’t surprised by the verdict.
“For any of us who were following the case, this was the inevitable result given the magnitude of the evidence,” Mearns says. “There was the possibility that the jury would do something unpredictable, but they didn’t.”
No more swagger, no more "Jimmy being Jimmy"
Still Mearns noted that it was quite a contrast from the Jimmy Dimora who prosecutors called “King of the County” … to the man led out of the courtroom today.
“When the investigation began, we saw a lot of swagger, bravado, speaking very defiantly and passionately,” Mearns recalls. “And then it ends with this exclamation point, with him not taking the stand at trial, not even speaking to the media during court recesses. And today, being led from the courtroom in handcuff and shackles.”
Dimora was not only a county commissioner, and the popular former mayor of Bedford Heights, he had been chairman of the county Democratic party. His political career spanned 31 years.
A sense of relief on Cleveland streets
But people we talked to on the streets of Cleveland were glad to see his trial end in a conviction.
Here’s a compilation of the thoughts of Cuyahoga County residents:
I’m pretty happy. … I think probably the people who are responsible for putting him there put a lot of time, thought and effort into this, and hopefully the judge who sentences him will do the same thing.”
“I’m just glad that it’s come to that point and maybe we can move forward and … have more trust in our Cuyahoga County. I think we’ve lost a lot of that in general and hopefully that will be resolved with this and (we’ll) move forward.”
“It’s sad for the county and obviously sad for Mr. Dimora and people who supported him for years. … But it seems like they had pretty good … evidence and I’m surprised it took so long for the jury.”
“I figured everything was going to come back guilty. The whole county political structure … in those ‘70s,’80s, ‘90s years, everyone knew there was something definitely going on. And I’m pretty happy… I feel bad for his family, of course, … but we need to get this town cleaned up.”
“It seemed fairly obvious from the beginning that they had enough evidence. … I was sorry that it had to go all the way through the process. I was hoping at some point he would sit there and come to reality and say, ‘OK, I’ve been caught. Let me just end this.’
Defense may have fumbled, or not had much to work with
Dimora’s defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to introduce evidence that Dimora had declared his bribes as gifts and that doing favors or putting in a good word for constituents is routine for public officials. But Christopher Banks, a political science professor at Kent State University, thought defense delays tied to that evidence may ultimately have hurt its case.
“They obviously weren’t ready (with)… their case when the prosecution rested. … And jury experts across the country question, that with all the stops and starts,” Banks says. “… It became very problematic for the jury to pay attention and to have any sympathy for the defendant. When you start hating the defense counsel, you’re certainly going to have more hatred toward the defendant himself.”
Former federal prosecutor Mearns agreed, saying – in contrast – the government was methodical, efficient and effective.
But he noted that the case is not over. The jury is back on Tuesday morning to discuss forfeiture of Dimora and Gabor’s assets.
Next step, forfeiture
“It’s not quite restitution. At sentencing, I anticipate the judge will require him to pay restitution, that is to give back his ill-gotten gains,” Mearns explains. But “forfeiture would lead to an order, assuming the jury finds in the prosecution’s favor, that he has to forfeit property that he either obtained directly or property that he obtained indirectly with the ill-gotten goods. And I don’t know whether that’s his house or whatever.”
It may be three or four more months before Dimora is sentenced. And he’s facing decades in prison.
What price loyalty?
Dimora’s one time friend, former Auditor Frank Russo, pleaded guilty and got a sentence of more than 20 years. That may be reduced because he testified for the prosecution.
And though Dimora took bribes amounting to a small fraction of what Russo took, Mearns thinks he could also get 20 years, or more.
Dimora gambled with a not-guilty plea and lost.
“Perhaps from his perspective, he thought this was the only way out because 20 years on a guilty plea, that is not much of a benefit to begin with. … So it appears he rolled the dice and lost,” Means says. “What’s interesting is … Gabor. Gabor I would anticipate was given the opportunity to plead guilty and cooperate, (and) he turned that down.
“He’s paying and will continue to pay and extraordinary price for his continuing loyalty to Dimora.”
Mearns and others expect Dimora to appeal the verdict to Judge Sara Lioi and to a higher court if she rejects it.
They’ll all be back in court Monday morning for procedural matters.