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Federal Agents Raid, Close Ohio County's Auditor's Office

 

Agents from both the Internal Revenue Service and several offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation descended upon the offices of Cuyahoga County's auditor and one county commissioner today. Although the F.B.I. will not disclose what it is looking for, the spokesman for the office, Scott Wilson confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that it was focused on a long-term public corruption investigation.

"The warrants are sealed and, basically, I cannot comment on anything that's being searched or seized," Wilson said in a statement to WOIO-Channel 19. Another agent in his office, Special Agent in Charge Frank Figliuzzi issued the same statement to a morning radio news program. He did note that once the investigation enters the prosecution phase, additional information will be provided to the media and the public.

In addition to the searches of Jimmy Dimora's office, the county commissioner, and Frank Russo, the county auditor, search warrants were also carried out at other locations throughout the county, including the county engineer's office and both Russo and Dimora's homes. The Parma home of Kevin Kelly, an employee of Russo's, was also searched by federal officials. Agents have been seen by news helicopters removing information in boxes from all of the aforementioned locations.

According to news reports, county employees working on both the third and fourth floors of the county administrator's building were told that they should return to their homes after they provided the agents with their contact information. The floors were then sealed off and no one is being admitted access unless they are involved in the investigation. Checking systems and computer networks were also allegedly shut down by government agents.

The county recorder's office, which was vacated by Patrick O'Malley two months ago, remains open. Thus, liens can still be placed on properties. Because the auditor's office must first approve deeds prior to their recordation by the recorder's office, there is some concern that intervening liens could cause problems if deeds are not being recorded. As it is not yet known when the county office will reopen, many in both the title and real estate industries are concerned that this could spell disaster.

"I have no idea what is going on regarding an investigation, but this explains a lot of the problems that they are having down there," said Wanda Steudel, the president of AccuSearch, a Cleveland-area title company. "This is going to wreak havoc with an already crippled industry. This will be a real blow to the people who rely on the records maintained by those offices in Cuyahoga County."

Peter Lawson Jones, another one of the county's three commissioners, released a statement to the media regarding the investigation. Neither his office nor the office of Tim Hagan was served with search warrants in this investigation.

"Jimmy Dimora is my friend and colleague," Lawson Jones said. "... I fervently hope and pray that when all is said and done, this is a mere tempest in a teapot."

In addition to the searches that were executed at the officials' homes and offices, agents also served search warrants at the Cuyahoga County Data Center, a facility where information is entered and stored into computer databases; DAS Construction, a business in Garfield Heights; and Blaze Construction, a facility located in Berea.

In other Cleveland area news, a fire broke out at the home of Joe Cimperman, a city councilman, early this morning. Cimperman, his wife, young child and downstairs tenants were able to escape the fire without any injuries. According to several news reports, the police and fire investigators believe that the cause of the fire may have been arson. Cimperman was named as one of the likely successors to O'Malley after he resigned from his role as recorder. Yet, Cimperman did not receive the nomination from the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and Lillian Greene was named O'Malley's successor.

For many years, allegations of nepotism and corruption have run rampant in the county offices, according to one source who wished to remain anonymous. Following O'Malley's resignation, local news media began investigating just how legitimate many of the county's offices were.

To learn more, please read "County Recorder Resigns, Takes Federal Pornography Plea", "FEATURE: County Recorder Resigns After Admitting to Transporting Child Pornography," "County Judge Expected to Assume Role as Ohio County's Recorder" and "Audit Launched to Examine County's Internal Policies, Procedures."

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