- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Attorneys for a former Ohio county commissioner serving 28 years in prison in a wide-ranging public corruption case asked an appeals court on Wednesday to throw out most of his convictions, arguing that the judge in the case effectively prevented him from getting a fair trial.

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora wants the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to overturn his March 2012 convictions on 32 bribery-related offenses, drop four of the charges and grant him a new trial on the remaining 28 charges.

The 6th Circuit judges can rule at any time.

Dimora, 58, a former Democratic Party chairman in Cleveland, is serving his 28-year sentence in an Oklahoma federal prison and was not at the hearing.

Dimora’s lengthy trial capped an investigation that led to more than 50 convictions involving county officials, employees and contractors who prosecutors say traded bribes for government jobs and contracts.

Dimora’s attorney, Christian Grostic, argued the trial judge in his client’s case wrongly refused to allow jurors to see ethics reports that Dimora filled out.

He said the reports prove that the items Dimora received were gifts, not bribes, and that his client never tried to hide anything.

Prosecutor Antoinette Bacon said the reports were incomplete and reported only relationships with people who were bribing Dimora, not details or dollar figures.

“Even if they were admissible, they are not the keys to the kingdom,” she said.

Federal Judge Sara Lioi declined to allow jurors to see the reports, ruling that they amounted to hearsay and would only confuse the jurors, since the defense wanted them to be presented without testimony to explain or verify the reports.

The three 6th Circuit judges on Wednesday seemed incredulous about why the reports weren’t admitted as evidence.

“He’s entitled to a trial by jury,” Judge Gilbert Merritt told Bacon, who successfully argued at trial to keep the reports from jurors. “He’s entitled to make his defense under due process of the law, and this … it may not be a very good defense, but you are preventing him from offering the main defense he’s got.”

Judge Richard Allen Griffin said he and the other judges were “apt to agree” that Lioi erred in excluding the ethics reports at trial, but questioned whether they were pivotal enough to have changed jurors’ minds about Dimora’s guilt - a key requirement in order for Dimora to win a reversal of his convictions or a new trial.

Grostic argued the reports prove Dimora didn’t intend to commit a crime.

“When the jury was weighing this evidence, it was left to ask, ‘But why did he conceal these things if they weren’t bribes?’” Grostic said. “And with credibility determinations, with inferences, that would be enough to tip the balance for me. But he wasn’t able to say, ‘I didn’t. I put them down.’”

The government said Dimora took bribes for nearly a decade, including a Las Vegas trip that involved a woman who was paid $1,000 to give him a massage in his hotel room.

Other bribes included home renovations, an Ohio State football jersey worth $3,600, high-end restaurant meals, limousine service, use of a condominium and up to $2,000 toward the cost of a Rolex watch, the indictment against him said.

In the heated run-up to the indictment, the outspoken Dimora angrily denied wrongdoing and invited FBI agents to come after him.

At his sentencing hearing in July 2012, a tearful Dimora said everything he did was for the good of the county’s taxpayers.


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP

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