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Former Cuyahoga Judge McCafferty Convicted Of Lying To FBI On Case Fixing Investigation, Activists Want Criminal Cases Reopened
Submitted by JournalistKathy... on Sat, 03/26/2011 - 04:46.
Former Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty. See to the right, a younger McCafferty at age 32 when she first was elected to the common pleas bench, one of the youngest ever elected.
Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, also a former chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party
By Kathy Wray Coleman, Editor and Investigative Journalist of the Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
A former Cuyahoga County common pleas court judge was found guilty earlier today of 10 counts of lying to the FBI in conjunction with a federal corruption probe of a host of Cuyahoga County officials, including former county commissioner Jimmy Dimora and former county auditor Frank Russo.
Federal prosecutors told jurors during trial and at closing arguments this week that Cuyahoga Judge Bridget McCafferty lied to FBI agents when they came snooping at her home on whether she was involved in alleged case fixing for the once popular and powerful duo.
Dimora stepped down in 2009 as chairperson of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. He and Russo's jobs as commissioner and auditor were abolished in Jan after the voter adopted Issue 6 was implemented with a county executive and 11-member county council. They replace the three- member Board of Commissioners, and the elected positions of county engineer, treasurer, auditor, recorder, coroner, sheriff and clerk of courts, though Sheriff Bob Reid and Clerk of Courts Gerald Fuerst were retained for now earlier this month by county executive Ed Fitzgerald and the county council, all elected last year to take office in Jan.
Russo, out on bond until sentencing in May, pleaded guilty Sept 16 of last year to corruption related charges and testified against the judge, hoping to reduce his potential 21 year sentence. Dimora, who faces 26 counts of corruption related charges, has not yet been tried, and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
McCafferty, 44, who was first elected to the bench at age 32 and lost a reelection bid in Nov. to now Republican Cuyahoga Judge Michael Astrab, smiled grimly as she left a federal district court in Akron after the jury verdict. She told reporters that she could not comment on the case due to the upcoming sentencing, and because of an upcoming appeal that her attorney has vowed to undertake.
"I was disappointed with the verdict and we plan to appeal," McCafferty attorney Michael Murray told reporters.
The disgraced former judge faces five years on each of the 10 counts of lying to investigators for a total of 50 potential years in prison. Federal guidelines, however, call for a substantial lesser term, which will be determined by Federal District Court Judge Sara Lioi at sentencing June 2.
McCafferty, who is credited with supporting Black causes like community oriented fundraiser's and campaign functions for Black office holders was, like Russo and Dimora, a one time rising star in the county's Democratic Party, at least until the FBI and IRS came knocking.
The embattled former judge did not take the stand during the five day trial where jurors deliberated for four hours before reaching a verdict. She is the seond person to be convicted of corruption related crimes as more than 45 people, including Russo, have pleaded guilty. The other is former Metro-Health Hospital construction manager Tom Greco.
The ruckus began when, on July 28, 2008, FBI and IRS agents raided the homes and offices of Dimora and Russo, and McCafferty's office was raided too, as were others. Her bailiff testified at trial that she seemed nervous about it, though activists say that FBI and IRS agents make most people nervous.
She remains out on bond until her sentencing, a gesture she so frequently afforded to others.
Russo, who testified that he still sees McCafferty as a friend, gave the most damning testimony, saying that at least four times a year he discussed case fixing activities with the judge, though from an indirect standpoint. He did testify though, that McCafferty took no bribes to his personal knowledge.
McCafferty's lawyers countered that Russo's damaging testimony was lies and told the jury that he had something to gain such as a reduced sentence for his corruption, and that the prosecution's case was flimsy and had at best revealed potential violations of the Ohio Judicial Code of Conduct and Lawyer's Professional Code of Responsibility, violations they said are routine of Ohio judges.
Reaction to the verdict in the Black community was mixed.
"I hated to see this because Judge McCafferty was always nice and personable," said Community Activist Ada Averyhart. "She was singled out unlike the other judges and the Republicans are behind this, which is why everybody prosecuted is a Democrat."
But some area criminal defense attorneys say McCafferty was personable off the bench, but hard on crime and hard on Blacks and other people while on it.
"Judge McCafferty was personable privately, but she was harsh and hard on defendants and would often give the maximum to first time offenders, many Black," said Cleveland Criminal Defense Attorney Wayne Kerek, a veteran lawyer of more than 25 years. "The judge started off sentencing people like a monster, but she toned down a little over the years."
Activists are now asking to know what the more than one thousand hours of FBI recordings reveal about McCaffterty and the 34 judges of the general division of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas and are questioning whether Blacks and others sent to prison by McCafftery should have their cases reopened for a review for potential case fixing.
Averyhart said that the Black community should stop sleeping and monitor judges more.
"We need a court watch," said Averyhart.
Dimora and McCafferty are also defendants in a lawsuit before Cuyahoga Judge Daniel Gaul that claims that they conspired to minimize damages for the defendants in a lawsuit brought by a company known as Letter Perfect Inc against D-A-S Construction that was before McCafferty.
Letter Perfect sued D-A-S over non-payment of $237 thousand in subtracted construction work for the Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Among other claims, the suit alleges that Dimora lobbied McCafferty to fix a settlement in the case to minimize damages of D-A-S, claims they both deny, and allegations that swarmed at McCafferty's trial, though the judge was accused only of numerous counts of lying to federal investigators
McCafferty's telephone conversations were secretly taped by FBI agents and some were played at trial, including conversations with Dimora and Russo, and a conversation with Steve Pumper, a former CEO of D-A-S who pleaded guilty after being charged with bribery, obstruction of official business and other related charges and is awaiting sentencing.
Pumper testified against the judge at trial as part of a plea bargain about her alleged manipulation of a lesser settlement of $190 thousand for Letter Perfect. FBI recordings played to the jury have McCafferty saying to Pumper, in an ex parte fashion, that she wished she could have done more, prompting him to respond, saying he would see her at her next fundraiser.