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TRAFICANT CASE Less time recommended for cooperation



Published: Tue, August 7, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Canfield contractor would get a reduced sentence, some of which must be spent in incarceration, for cooperating with federal officials investigating corruption in the Mahoning Valley and for testifying against U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.

James R. Sabatine once owned Hardrives Paving & amp; Construction Inc. in Mineral Ridge.

A two-count federal criminal information charges Sabatine, 49, of Pebble Beach Court with engaging in a pattern of racketeering between June 1993 and December 1999 and filing a false income tax return for 1994, understating his income by $239,000.

Mark Stanton, Sabatine's attorney, had said in the past there is a plea agreement. An unsigned agreement says the U.S. attorney's office recommends a reduced sentence for Sabatine in exchange for his continuous cooperation with its investigative efforts.

Because of Sabatine's intention to cooperate, the U.S. attorney recommends that his federal sentencing be reduced by nine levels, which would result in a 10- to 16-month penalty. A portion of that sentence could be served under house arrest if so decided by U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus, who is assigned the case.

Guidelines: The federal sentencing guidelines show a sentence of 37 to 46 months for these crimes before acceptance of responsibility and cooperation is taken into account. His criminal history, if any, would affect the ultimate sentence.

The unsigned agreement says that any self-incriminating information provided by Sabatine in the course of his cooperation would not be used against him in determining his sentence. If he does not fully cooperate, however, he would be subject to criminal prosecution.

"James R. Sabatine shall cooperate with the United State Attorney's office for the Northern District of Ohio by providing truthful, complete, and forthright information whenever, wherever, to whomever, and in whatever form an assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of Ohio requests," the plea agreement reads.

The agreement was inadvertently faxed to The Vindicator and other news outlets by the U.S. Department of Labor, which assisted in the Sabatine investigation. The mistake did not please Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman.

"I'd suggest the government investigators move the Traficant button away from The Vindicator and other media buttons on the fax machine and maybe we can avoid human errors in the future," he said. "It's a bit problematic that this is being faxed out inadvertently."

Bribes alleged: The plea agreement states:

In August 1998, Sabatine paid a $2,400 bribe to Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, for the congressman's intervention on Sabatine's behalf with officials of an interstate railroad to help Sabatine obtain a rail line and steady supply of raw materials to produce asphalt at his Youngstown operation.

Traficant faces a 10-count federal indictment charging him with racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. The federal government says Traficant required money and free labor and supplies from local businessmen in exchange for his assistance in his official capacity as a congressman.

In 1994, Sabatine paid a $20,000 bribe to then-Mahoning County Engineer William Fergus for a 1993 county contract to repave Meridian Road. Sabatine paid the bribe to Fergus, who served an 18-month sentence for taking kickbacks, to ensure that Hardrives maintained a favorable position with the engineer's office for future county contracts.

From June 1993 to September 1997, he paid $7,300 in bribes to an unnamed county road inspector in exchange for permitting Hardrives personnel to submit fraudulent weigh tickets so the company would receive payment for asphalt that was never applied.

In May 1997, Sabatine filed an income tax return for 1994 falsely reporting a write-off of a bad debt. By doing so, he underpaid $66,920 in taxes.

Allegations of fraud: From July 1995 to November 1998, Sabatine's indictment says, he and Renee Smith, who operated Tone Crack Sealing & amp; Supply Inc., devised a scheme to defraud the Ohio Public Works Commission and various local municipalities. Tone Crack submitted false documents to the public works commission, Goshen Township, Struthers, Champion Township and Kinsman Township to obtain minority set-aside construction contracts.

The plea agreement said the scheme had Smith, who is black and who has not been indicted, obtain public road contracts under the state's minority set-aside program and then pass the contract along to Hardrives for money while doing no work.

For the four jobs, Hardrives got $515,076 while Tone Crack pocketed $81,788.

Questioned by authorities: Smith told The Vindicator in March that she had testified in front of a federal grand jury about the Struthers contract and other issues, which she declined to reveal. Smith's company does not own any construction equipment.

Struthers city officials said in March that FBI agents asked them about the contract and any involvement Traficant, Councilman Robert Carcelli, and his brother, Ron Carcelli, the city's street department foreman, may have had in the contract.

The Carcellis have said they had nothing to do with the contract. Robert Carcelli, D-at large, worked with Smith at the Laborers International Union of North America Local 125.

Sabatine would become the third local businessman to accept a plea agreement in exchange for their testimony against Traficant, whose case is set for trial in February. A. David Sugar of Honey Creek Contracting in New Middletown and J.J. Cafaro of Liberty, whose family develops shopping malls, are the others.

skolnick@vindy.com




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