A former Elyria attorney and his former law partner both have had their law licenses suspended indefinitely by the Ohio Supreme Court after they pleaded guilty to federal charges connected to the ongoing corruption investigation in Cuyahoga County.
Timothy Armstrong, who practiced law in Elyria after the Cleveland law firm of Armstrong, Mitchell, Damiani and Zaccagnini dissolved in 2006, currently is serving a 42-month prison sentence at the Federal Correction Institution in Manchester, Ky.
Bruce Zaccagnini is serving a five-year prison sentence for his role in a scheme to bribe a public official whose description matches that of Cuyahoga County Auditor Frank Russo, who has denied any wrongdoing.
Jonathan Marshall, secretary to the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, said suspending the law licenses of attorneys convicted of felonies is automatic.
The purpose, he said, is to make certain that the attorneys can’t practice law while the Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Counsel conducts a more thorough review.
That review could turn up ethical problems that wouldn’t necessarily be criminal in nature, Marshall said. Ultimately, a punishment will be recommended to the Ohio Supreme Court to impose on the attorney.
It could range from allowing the attorney to return to work to further suspensions.
Marshall said it could also “be a permanent disbarment, and that’s the death penalty for an Ohio lawyer. They can never come back from that.”
Court documents filed in the case accused Armstrong, Zaccagnini and others in the firm of funneling about $1.3 million in bribes to Russo through former aide Santina “Sandy” Klimkowski, who also has pleaded guilty in the case.
The bribes, federal prosecutors contended, were to ensure that appraisal contracts from Russo’s office went to a company widely believed to be VAS Enterprises. VAS was effectively controlled by the law firm, according to court documents.
The contracts, which were first awarded to VAS in 1998, were worth nearly $21.5 million. Armstrong made nearly $1.6 million off the deal, according to restitution, but has already repaid the money.
Before Armstrong was sentenced, his attorney, John Pyle, argued that his client was the least involved of all the partners in the law firm in the scheme to bribe Russo.
The bulk of the bribery was handled by the late Louis Damiani, who told Armstrong in 1997 that they had to “take care of Frank” to get the contract.
Once Damiani died and the law firm split up, Zaccagnini formed another law firm and continued to bribe Russo, according to court documents.
Armstrong isn’t the only Lorain County figure to fall under scrutiny in the federal corruption probe — former Lorain Community Development Director Sandy Prudoff and Lorain businessman Don E. Buchs also found themselves in the midst of the ongoing probe. Neither man has been charged, but a Cleveland halfway house that Prudoff did work for as a consultant has been at the center of the investigation.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.