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CLEVELAND Former paving foreman charged with mail fraud



Published: Thu, November 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The man's boss and a supervisor have already pleaded guilty in the scheme.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

CLEVELAND -- A 46-year-old Campbell man is the third former Hardrives Paving and Construction Inc. official charged by the federal government with participating in a scheme to submit fraudulent invoices to Mahoning County for asphalt that was never used on paving jobs.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed an information Wednesday against Christ Minerd of Park Drive, charging him with mail fraud and aiding and abetting. Minerd was employed as a foreman with Hardrives, a Mineral Ridge company liquidated earlier this year while it was under federal investigation.

The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Minerd with submitting fraudulent invoices, known as weight tickets, in 1997 for payment to the county as if the asphalt was used and that Hardrives received payment from the county for the fraudulent invoices.

Minerd faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release if convicted.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard H. Blake said he plans to file a motion to have Minerd's case transferred to U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, who is handling the cases involving the other former Hardrives officials. An arraignment date has not yet been set, he said.

Pleaded guilty: Minerd's former Hardrives boss, James R. Sabatine, 49, of Canfield, and Edward Pannutti, a 47-year-old Lowellville man who worked as the business's asphalt plant supervisor, have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the scheme.

Pannutti pleaded guilty in September to two counts of mail fraud for using the U.S. Postal Service to send phony invoices to and receive checks from the county for $8,750 and Struthers for $10,082 for asphalt not used.

Sabatine pleaded guilty in August to one count each of racketeering and filing a false income tax return.

Sabatine admitted he paid a $20,000 bribe in 1994 to then-county Engineer William Fergus for a 1993 county contract to repave Meridian Road and to ensure that his company received favorable treatment from the engineer's office for future contracts. Sabatine admitted he paid $7,300 in bribes to an unnamed county road inspector between June 1993 and September 1997 in exchange for permitting Hardrives to submit the fraudulent weight tickets.

Other accusations: Also, the government said Sabatine and the operator of a Youngstown company, Tone Crack Sealing & amp; Supply Co., devised a scheme to fraudulently obtain four government paving contracts that were set aside for minority businesses in Ohio.

Sabatine also admitted he paid $2,400 to U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, in August 1998 to have the congressman intervene on his behalf to secure a rail line and steady supply of raw materials to his asphalt plant.

Sabatine is expected to testify against Traficant when the congressman goes to trial Feb. 4. Traficant faces 10 felony counts including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.

In exchange for his cooperation, the government will recommend Sabatine receive a 10- to 16-month sentence.

skolnick@vindy.com




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