Cuyahoga County corruption investigation used phone bugging, secret recordings to build case

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Fri, 05/08/2009 - 03:10.

Cuyahoga County corruption investigation used phone bugging, secret recordings to build case

Posted by pkrouse [at] plaind [dot] com May 07, 2009 20:30PM

A recent court case left little doubt that bugged phones and secretly recorded meetings are key tools federal prosecutors are using to build their case into possible corruption in Cuyahoga County.

 

The best witness for prosecutorsis often the defendant himself caught on tape taking bribes, selling drugs or otherwise breaking the law. It's hard for a jury to ignore that kind of evidence, defense lawyers said, and it often persuades a defendant to seek a plea deal.

That's what happened last month in the case of former Cleveland building inspector Richard Huberty, the second man to plead guilty to charges stemming from the high-profile federal corruption investigation.

FBI agents played several audiotapes for attorney John Ricotta with his client Huberty, arranging meetings with various people and then played videotapes of those meetings taking place. Some were at the Stonebridge complex in the Flats, where Huberty took bribes from a K&D Group construction manager.

"I could only recognize my own client's voice," Ricotta said, but it was enough. Ricotta advised Huberty to plead guilty.

It's common practice for prosecutors and agents to expose just enough of their hand to persuade a defendant facing prison time to cooperate. That process already has begun in the federal probe investigating possible crimes in the way Cuyahoga County politicians awarded lucrative contracts.

At least a dozen people are cooperating with the U.S. attorney's office, said a defense attorney whose client is one of them. He expects the first charges to be filed within the month and said the charges will deal with extortion and public corruption.

It's believed that federal agents have collected reams of audio recordings, and some video, of the people under investigation.

In July, agents searched the homes and offices of Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, looking for financial records -- from credit card statements and canceled checks to travel itineraries and frequent-flier statements. They also searched for records of real estate dealings, including home improvements, according to court documents.

That same day, they searched several businesses that got county contracts, as well as the Cuyahoga County engineer's office seeking information about J. Kevin Kelley, an office employee who also sat on the Parma school board.

Subsequent raids and subpoenas focused on two Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judges, the head of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, two former officials at MetroHealth Medical Center and others.

The FBI, IRS and U.S. attorney's office will not discuss their evidence or how it was collected. A second defense attorney familiar with the investigation believes most of the electronic surveillance was conducted before last summer's raids, which were themselves expedited for fear the targets had gotten wind of the investigation and would destroy evidence.

"I think there's got to be 1,000 hours of wiretaps," the attorney said, with recordings of all the targets. He suspects most of the recordings came from tapped telephones or from bugged rooms and offices.

There may have been some people wearing wires, he said.

Search warrants authorizing last year's raids suggest government investigators knew a lot of things about people they wouldn't have known unless they were listening in on personal conversations, said Jerry Gold, a defense attorney who represents Michael Forlani, former president of Doan Pyramid Electric, a company that was searched by agents.

That suggests to Gold that agents collected much of their intelligence by tapping into cell phone calls.

People drop their guard when they're on the Internet or a cell phone, Gold said. "You think you have privacy in your hands and you don't."

Still, agents must get supervisors at the Justice Department in Washington, as well as a federal judge, to sign off on the electronic eavesdropping before any phones can be tapped. They must convince the judge in a secret hearing that the evidence cannot be obtained any other way but through a wiretap.

The law is different for private individuals -- typically a witness cooperating with investigators -- recording conversations. They do not need a judge's permission to record conversations, either in person or over the phone, that they have with other people.

Gone are the days when wires and tape recorders are simply taped to skin under someone's clothes. The hidden cameras and electronic bugging devices used by law enforcement officers today are tiny and far more discreet.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Virginia Davidson remembers working on a case in 2004 in which a witness had worn a buttonhole camera on her nurse's smock to gather evidence against her boss, a doctor later convicted of health-care fraud resulting in death and sentenced to life in prison.

The camera captured images of the doctor crudely injecting patients.

"It was devastatingly effective," said Davidson, who is now in private practice with Calfee Halter & Griswold.

Click here: Cuyahoga County corruption investigation used phone bugging, secret recordings to build case - Metro - cleveland.c

For more coverage of the federal probe on corruption in Cuyahoga County visit cleveland.com/countyincrisis

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( categories: )

Peter Krouse article revisited-Patrick Coyne arrested

Coyne is a well-connected Democrat who worked briefly for then-Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis before going to work for County Prosecutor Bill Mason in 1999. He joined the County Coroner's Office in 2007.

http://www.cleveland.com/countyincrisis/index.ssf/2011/05/fbi_arrests_pat.html

More to come:

People drop their guard when they're on the Internet or a cell phone, Gold said. "You think you have privacy in your hands and you don't."