CLEVELAND Sabatine pleads guilty to 2 counts
The government will ask that the Canfield man's sentencing not take place until he fulfills his obligation to testify at upcoming trials.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- Add a third prominent businessman -- one whose paving company thrived through bribery -- to the list of those who will testify against indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.
Canfield contractor James R. Sabatine pleaded guilty Monday in U.S. District Court to a two-count criminal information filed Aug. 2 that charged him 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, 49, of Pebble Beach Court, once owned Hardrives Paving and Construction Inc. of Mineral Ridge. He liquidated it earlier this year.
He told Judge Lesley Brooks Wells that he bribed Traficant, of Poland, D-17th, with $2,400 and others for much more.
After court, Sabatine avoided reporters who waited for him outside, wanting to ask if he gave Traficant the bribe in person and where the exchange took place. Judge Wells has ordered that no press interviews shall take place in the courthouse.
Although defendants not in custody or in ill health are not permitted to enter or leave the courthouse except through the main front door, court officials and others told reporters that Sabatine left after being photographed by U.S. marshals, without saying how he left.
Terms of agreement: Sabatine's plea agreement with the government, represented by Richard H. Blake, an assistant U.S. attorney, requires him to be honest and cooperative with federal prosecutors. This includes testifying at grand juries, testifying in court and producing documents.
Sabatine and his Cleveland lawyer, Mark A. Stanton, signed the 12-page agreement July 31, before the charges were filed. Blake signed it Friday.
In return for Sabatine's cooperation, which extends to state courts, the government will recommend that he receive a 10- to 16-month sentence, a portion of which must be spent incarcerated.
Judge Wells ordered a presentence investigation, set Sabatine's unsecured bond at $500,000 and set sentencing for Nov. 13. The judge restricted his travels to Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Blake told the judge that he will file a motion asking that Sabatine's sentencing be deferred, based on the government's ongoing investigation in the Mahoning Valley. The federal prosecutor said Sabatine is "playing a crucial part" in the investigation and will be needed to testify at future trials.
Judge Wells spent more than an hour going over Sabatine's constitutional rights, background and plea agreement. She learned that he is married, has three children and a gross monthly income of $14,000 with a lot of liabilities.
She also reviewed each of the charges he pleaded guilty to, making sure the pleas were not coerced in any fashion.
"Have any threats or promises been made to you?" she asked.
"No, your honor," he answered.
Traficant has criticized the FBI and federal prosecutors for more than a year, saying they pressured people just to get to him.
Admits bribes: Sabatine, meanwhile, said that in August 1998 he paid the $2,400 bribe to Traficant, who intervened on his behalf to secure a rail line and steady supply of raw materials to his asphalt plant in Youngstown.
"Is that correct?" the judge asked Sabatine of the Traficant bribe.
"Yes it is, your honor," Sabatine answered.
Sabatine also pleaded guilty to mail fraud and two more 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.
Sabatine, to submit fraudulent weight tickets for asphalt that was never applied, also paid four bribes totaling $7,300 to an unnamed inspector at the county engineer's office between June 1993 and September 1997, the government said. Sabatine gave the inspector three bribes and, on the fourth occasion, had it delivered through two other unnamed members of the racketeering enterprise.
A grand jury indicted Traficant in May and he informed Judge Wells that, although not a lawyer, he would represent himself at trial Feb. 4, 2002. The 10-count indictment includes charges of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. It does not include the Sabatine bribe, which may appear in a superseding indictment.
The 60-year-old congressman used his position on behalf of several prominent businessmen who, in return, the government said, bribed him with goods and services. Sabatine joins A. David Sugar of Honey Creek Contracting in New Middletown and J.J. Cafaro of Liberty, whose family develops shopping malls, both of whom pleaded guilty in the case against the ninth-term congressman and are expected to testify for the government.
Minority business: Sabatine's plea agreement also states that, between July 1995 and November 1998, he and a minority contractor, Renee Smith, doing business as Tone Crack Sealing & amp; Supply Co. of Youngstown, devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain government paving contracts that were set aside for minority businesses in Ohio.
Smith submitted false certifications to make it look like Tone Crack 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, Sabatine said in court.
The mail fraud occurred between July 1995 and November 1998, 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 be set aside for minority businesses. He and Tone Crack obtained road contracts in Mahoning and Trumbull counties by submitting -- through the mail -- false documentation to the OPWC, city of Struthers, and Goshen, Champion and Kinsman townships, the government said.
The government listed the four projects:
* Airport Road (Champion) -- Tone Crack received $128,725 and paid Hardrives $119,720.
* State Street (Struthers) -- Tone Crack received $128,546 and paid Hardrives $110,230.
* Smith-Goshen Road (Goshen) -- Tone Crack received $135,370 and paid Hardrives $129,718.
* Delin Thomas Road (Kinsman) -- Tone Crack received $204,221 and paid Hardrives $155,407.
At the time of the paving contract in 1995, Smith served as clerical secretary at the Laborers International Union of North America Local 125 and worked with Struthers Councilman Robert D. Carcelli, D-at large. He has since retired from the union, where he served as secretary-treasurer.
Not charged: No charges have been filed against Smith, and the government has not identified the county inspector and the other two members of the enterprise who accepted bribes for him from Sabatine.
When interviewed by The Vindicator in March, Smith acknowledged that she had testified before a federal grand jury.
She declined to comment after Sabatine was charged but did say that Tone Crack is no longer in business.
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 advertise for bids.