'What do I need a lawyer for?' the former MVSD board director asked.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Frank D. DeJute, a former Mahoning Valley Sanitary District director, will handle his own defense against a $2.4 million lawsuit filed by the Ohio attorney general's office.
"Every single thing that's involved here, I had lawyers, big-time lawyers, involved in everything I did, and here I am still getting sued civilly for money damages," DeJute, of Niles, said. "What good is it to have lawyers? What do I need a lawyer for? I had lawyers, and I'm in this mess."
Others being sued: The attorney general is suing DeJute, Edward A. Flask of Poland, another former MVSD director, and the Gilbane Building Co. of Rhode Island, which handled a $50 million capital improvement project at the water agency, in separate $2.4 million lawsuits.
DeJute said he had no problems with how Roger Synenberg, his Cleveland attorney, represented him nor was it a money issue. DeJute did not know how much he has paid Synenberg to defend him the past few years, but called it "peanuts."
"I feel I'm in this mess because of lawyers, consultants and engineers, and I did nothing wrong," DeJute said. "This entire thing, as it relates to me, I was put in this [lawsuit] as a me-too. The charges are ridiculous, and I feel I've just been added to it."
DeJute, who served on the MVSD board for 10 years, leaving in 1996, said he did not come up with the idea after hearing that U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland will defend himself against 10 felony counts including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.
"Just because he did it, it's not relevant in this case," DeJute said.
Visiting Judge Richard M. Markus, who is overseeing DeJute's and Flask's civil cases, declined to comment.
Lawsuits' contentions: The lawsuits say Flask and DeJute improperly paid Gilbane for construction management work it never performed at the MVSD. The lawsuit also contends Flask and DeJute improperly received health, life insurance and pension benefits from the district.
"I was a public servant who did a lot, and I look like Joe Criminal," DeJute said. "What did I do? Nothing."
Jail time: Flask served 90 days in Trumbull County Jail after Judge Markus found him guilty in September of nine charges related to improperly accepting $2 million in cash and gifts from vendors who did business with the MVSD.
The civil lawsuits stem from a 1997 special state audit of the MVSD, which provides water to about 300,000 Mahoning and Trumbull counties residents.
The federal judge overseeing the Gilbane case ruled last year that special audits are unconstitutional but said he would seek an opinion on the audit law from the Ohio Supreme Court before dismissing the case. The judge never sought the opinion, and the Gilbane case is still pending.
Seeing that no action was being taken, Judge Markus set an Oct. 22 trial date for DeJute and a Sept. 24 trial date for Flask.
Depositions in the two cases are set for June 8. DeJute said he has no plans to attend the depositions.