The former judge apologized for his behavior, saying he let the people of Mahoning County down.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
CLEVELAND -- A federal judge who sentenced a former Mahoning County Court judge to 17 months in prison said the crime is another black eye for the county's justice system.
"The general belief is that the justice system in Mahoning County is different, but it is not," said U.S. Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley moments before she sentenced Fred H. Bailey of Boardman.
Bailey is among more than 70 people, including a county prosecutor, engineer, sheriff, congressman's aide, police chief, judges and lawyers to be convicted in the past few years as the result of a probe into organized crime and public corruption in Mahoning County.
Bailey, 73, had little to say during Wednesday's hearing and nothing to say after it.
"I'm very sorry for what happened," Bailey told the judge. "I'm sorry to let the people of Mahoning County down. I'm humiliated by what happened."
Cooperated with government: Bailey pleaded guilty in September 1999 to a one-count information of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. He was not sentenced until Wednesday because he agreed to be a government witness in exchange for the recommendation of a lighter sentence from the U.S. attorney's office,
Bailey testified last month against James A. Vitullo, a former assistant county prosecutor acquitted of charges he accepted bribes to fix cases. During his testimony, Bailey admitted he took bribes from Vitullo but couldn't give specifics.
Bailey would have faced a sentence of 24 to 30 months if he had not cooperated with federal authorities.
U.S. attorneys recommended the judge reduce the sentence to 18 to 24 months. Judge O'Malley noted that the attorney's office usually recommends even lighter sentences for cooperating witnesses. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bernard Smith said Bailey was cooperative, but his inability to be specific made his testimony less beneficial than others.
"He was not withholding information, but the information he could remember was not as great as other witnesses," Smith said.
J. Gerald Ingram, Bailey's attorney, asked for a sentence of 12 to 18 months. The judge decided to make the sentencing range from 15 to 21 months and to give Bailey a 17-month sentence.
After he serves his time in prison, Bailey will be put on probation for two years and was ordered to serve 150 hours of community service. There was no fine.
Attorney's reaction: "I think it was a fair sentencing hearing. I think it was a sad day," Ingram said after the sentence was delivered. "These are serious transgressions, but he's a man who's done a lot of good in his life. You have to balance the good against the bad."
Ingram pointed to Bailey's many years of community service and said the former judge did not actively seek to fix cases.
"Judge Bailey is almost an afterthought," he said, noting that the judge did not devise the case-fixing scheme. "He didn't develop it. It wasn't his idea. The entire process was initiated by others."
During his testimony in the Vitullo trial, Bailey said he paid many of the expenses of a woman to keep their affair quiet. Those expenses, he testified, caused him to be short of cash and was one of the reasons he accepted bribes.
"He tried to shield his family from emotional harm and if not for that, he probably wouldn't be here," Ingram said.
Accepted bribes: In his one-count information, Bailey, a judge from 1972 to 1999, admitted he accepted bribes from Vitullo, as well as from former attorneys Jack Campbell, Stuart Banks and Lawrence Seidita from 1989 to 1997. Except for Vitullo, the others have been found guilty in connection with fixing cases.
The judge allowed Bailey to remain free on $50,000 unsecured bond until he receives notice from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons about where he will serve his sentence. That could take at least 45 days, she said. The judge said Bailey will probably serve his time in a prison close to his home.
Ingram said Bailey's medical condition has deteriorated since his 1999 indictment and he suffers from acute depression.
"When bad people do bad things, they don't feel remorse or shame or humiliation," Ingram said. "When good people get caught, they purge themselves. They feel remorse, shame and humiliation."
It was those feelings that led Bailey to resign in 1999 and to cooperate with federal prosecutors, Ingram said.
Case delayed: Austintown businessman Martin J. DePerro, who pleaded guilty in 1999 to conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act for helping two friends get their drunken-driving cases fixed, was supposed to be sentenced Wednesday. But his attorney asked for a delay and Judge O'Malley granted it. A sentencing date has not yet been rescheduled.