FBI agents who visited Struthers and Goshen officials several months ago had questions about a minority contracting company.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- A Canfield contractor has been charged with bribing indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and devising a scheme to get paving contracts "passed through" a minority company.
The two-count criminal information filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court charges James R. Sabatine of Hardrives Paving & amp; Construction Inc. of Mineral Ridge with engaging in a pattern of racketeering between June 1993 and December 1999 and filing a false tax return for 1994, understating his income by $239,000.
Sabatine liquidated Hardrives earlier this year.
The information lists mail fraud and three acts of bribery -- including two payments totaling $20,000 in 1994 to former Mahoning County Engineer William Fergus to ensure that Hardrives maintained a "favorable position" for future contracts.
The government also linked the bribes to a 1993 contract Hardrives had to repave Meridian Road.
Fergus, charged in March 1998 with taking kickbacks, pleaded guilty and received an 18-month sentence.
Government allegations: In order to submit fraudulent weight tickets for asphalt that was never applied, Sabatine also paid four bribes totaling $7,300 to an unidentified inspector at the county engineer's office between June 1993 and September 1997, the government said.
It said Sabatine personally gave the inspector three bribes and, on the fourth occasion, had the bribe delivered through two other members of the racketeering enterprise.
In August 1998, Sabatine paid a $2,400 bribe to a public official who intervened on his behalf to secure a rail line to enable a steady supply of raw materials to his asphalt plant in Youngstown, the government said.
Although the public official is not named, the bribery is listed in the information under Title 18, section 201, of the federal criminal code. That section refers to a member of Congress.
For the government to file an information, the defendant must waive his right to indictment by a grand jury. The defendant then, in nearly all cases, agrees to plead guilty as part of the waiver. The plea agreement may require him to testify against co-defendants.
The case against Sabatine, 49, of Pebble Beach Court, Canfield, was investigated by the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Labor and is being prosecuted by Richard Blake, an assistant U.S. attorney. Blake said he had no comment at this time.
Sabatine, a Traficant contributor, could not be reached. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus in Youngstown.
Sabatine's Cleveland lawyer, Mark Stanton, was not available late Thursday.
Traficant indictment: A grand jury indicted Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, in May. Although not a lawyer, Traficant has informed the court he will represent himself at trial Feb. 4, 2002. The 10-count indictment includes charges of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
The 60-year-old congressman used his position on behalf of several prominent businessmen who, in return, bribed him with goods and services, the government said.
So far, A. David Sugar of Honey Creek Contracting in New Middletown and J.J. Cafaro of Liberty, whose family develops shopping malls, have pleaded guilty in the case against the ninth-term congressman and are expected to testify for the government.
Minority contractor: Sabatine's criminal information also charges that, between July 1995 and November 1998, he and a minority contractor devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain government paving contracts that were set aside for minority businesses in Ohio.
The minority contractor submitted false certifications to make it look like it would do the bulk of the work when, in fact, Hardrives would. The work "passed through" the minority firm and Hardrives received most of the money allotted, more than $515,000 for four contracts, the government said.
The mail fraud occurred between July 1995 and November 1998, the government said, when Sabatine knew the U.S. Postal Service was used to deliver documents related to the scheme to defraud the Ohio Public Works Commission, which required that 5 percent of all contracts let be set aside for minority businesses.
He and another contracting company obtained road contracts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by submitting -- through the mail -- false documentation to the OPWC, Struthers, Goshen, Champion and Kinsman townships, the government said.
The government listed the four projects:
* Airport Road (Champion) -- the minority company received $128,725 and paid Hardrives $119,720.
* State Street (Struthers) -- the minority company received $128,546 and paid Hardrives $110,230.
* Smith-Goshen Road (Goshen) -- the minority company received $135,370 and paid Hardrives $129,718.
* Delin Thomas Road (Kinsman) -- the minority company received $204,221 and paid Hardrives $155,407.
Struthers project: The Vindicator reported in early March that the FBI questioned Struthers officials about a 1995 paving contract awarded to a minority company, Tone Crack Sealing and Supply Inc., operated by Renee Smith, who is black.
Agents asked officials about any influence Traficant tried to use on them to get contracts for certain companies.
At the time of the paving contract in 1995, Smith served as clerical secretary at the Laborers International Union of North America Local 125. Her boss there was Struthers Councilman Robert D. Carcelli, D-at large. He has since retired from the union, where he served as secretary-treasurer.
When interviewed by the newspaper in March, Smith acknowledged that she had testified before a federal grand jury. Questions, she said, were not limited to the State Street resurfacing project, but she declined to elaborate.
Carcelli said then that he had not been questioned by the FBI and had nothing to do with getting Smith the contract. He explained that city council merely authorizes the board of control to put out bids.
Struthers records show that Tone Crack Sealing paid $55,000 of the $132,000 contract to Hardrives for asphalt and use of the company's trucks. Smith was the only bidder.
Struthers officials also answered FBI questions about any involvement the councilman or his brother, Ron Carcelli, the city's street department foreman, may have had in the contract, The Vindicator learned in March.
At the time, Ron Carcelli said that he had been questioned by FBI agents about the paving contract and that he told them he had no involvement, didn't know Smith and didn't benefit from the contract.
Robert Carcelli suggested that he was a target because of his close friendship with Traficant. Carcelli served as co-chairman of Traficant's 2000 primary and general election campaigns.
Goshen case: Goshen Township officials, meanwhile, also were questioned. In March, township Clerk Karen Novak and Trustees Robert Spencer and Robert McCracken said they gave Special Agent Matthew K. Dunn of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General's investigative unit in Chicago information he requested about a 1996-97 paving of a one-mile stretch of Smith-Goshen Road.
The minority business set-aside project was awarded to Tone Crack Sealing.
Hardrives served as the primary subcontractor on the job, Novak and McCracken said.
Canfield company: In late March, the U.S. attorney's office in Cleveland subpoenaed all documents Struthers had that dealt with Hardrives and the former Prime Contractors Inc. in Canfield. Ohio Secretary of State records showed Cheryl Bucci served as Prime's agent.
Bucci's husband, Anthony R. Bucci, and his brother, Robert T. Bucci, operated Asphalt Specialist Inc. and Prime, according to Traficant's 41-page indictment.
The Bucci brothers did $10,233 worth of work at Traficant's family horse farm in Greenford in 1987, but he never paid them, the government said.
When the brothers demanded payment, Charles O'Nesti, Traficant's top local aide at the time, told them there were things their congressman could do for them if they forgave the debt, the government said.
O'Nesti pleaded guilty in March 1998 for his part in a racketeering enterprise and died in February 2000 before being sentenced.
The Buccis, meanwhile, agreed to forgive the debt and, through 1996, provided free labor, materials, supplies and equipment at the farm.
In return, Traficant intervened on behalf of the Buccis with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Community Corrections Association Inc. on Market Street in Youngstown, Ohio Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Labor, Weathersfield Township trustees, Mahoning County Engineer's Office and the loan department of a Youngstown bank, the government said.
A grand jury indicted the Bucci brothers and Cheryl Bucci in November 1998 on charges they conspired to defraud the government for the purpose of impeding IRS collection. Anthony Bucci pleaded guilty and the charges against his wife were dismissed.