CLEVELAND, Ohio — Frank Russo, Cuyahoga County’s disgraced former auditor who was one of the biggest players to go down as a result of a wide-ranging federal probe, was released from a prison in North Carolina as the coronavirus rips through federal lockups, his attorney said.
Russo was released Thursday and is back in Cleveland, lawyer Roger Synenberg confirmed Friday. Synenberg said the Federal Bureau of Prisons freed Russo as part of a program to release certain inmates who are older and have heath issues to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. He will be on GPS monitoring and have to follow other rules set by the prisons bureau, his lawyer said.
The former auditor, who has a history of medical issues, was serving a 14-year sentence. He was taken into custody in November 2012 and was last housed at a medical prison in Butner, North Carolina. He is not scheduled for full release from the prison bureau’s custody until October 2024, provided he gets time off for good behavior.
“We’re really happy he’s home,” Synenberg said.
Russo, 70, was one of dozens of politicians, contractors and government workers convicted of federal crimes as a result of an FBI and IRS corruption investigation that began more than a decade ago. He was also one of the most powerful.
He served as the county’s auditor from 1997 to 2010 and pleaded guilty to a bevy of federal crimes in September 2010. He admitted he and his cohorts took more than $1 million in bribes, gifts and trips in exchange for jobs, contracts and political favors, among other crimes. Prosecutors said he was one of the most corrupt politicians in the county, right up there with his friend Jimmy Dimora.
Russo later agreed to cooperate with the government in its probe and testified at the 2012 trial for Dimora, the former county Democratic Party chairman and county commissioner.
Then-U.S. District Judge Kate O’Malley sentenced Russo in December 2010 to 22 years in federal prison, the second-longest prison stint of anybody convicted in the probe besides Dimora.
U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi reduced Russo’s sentence by nearly eight years in 2019 because of the former auditor’s cooperation. He was also ordered to pay nearly $7 million in restitution.
Russo’s release comes as the coronavirus continues to spread in jails and prisons, where inmates have limited abilities to stay distant from others and often can’t access adequate medical care.
Federal Correctional Complex Butner has several facilities, including the medical prison where Russo was housed. The medical prison had five inmates and five staffers who had tested positive for the virus as of Friday, though the prisons bureau noted that two staff members had also recovered.
Other facilities on the grounds have reported more cases. A medium-security prison there reported 211 positive inmate cases as of Friday, along with seven inmate deaths and 13 positive cases among staff.
Dimora, 64, is serving a 28-year prison sentence and has also suffered health issues for years. He is housed at Federal Correctional Institution Elkton in Columbiana County, where nine inmates have died from the virus as of Friday.
U.S. District Judge James Gwin in Cleveland has ordered federal officials to release or move inmates at risk of the virus because of their age or medical ailments from the prison. Dimora is on a list of eligible inmates for release or transfer, though he remains locked up there.