MAHONING COUNTY Attorney indicted in case-fixing
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal grand jury has indicted a 41-year-old attorney, saying she was a participant in a Mahoning County case-fixing scheme.
Lynn Sfara Bruno of Southwoods in Boardman is expected to be arraigned within the next two weeks in U.S. Court in Youngstown on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion under the color of official right, and extortion under color of official right, said Thomas J. Gruscinski, the assistant U.S. attorney assigned to the case.
The case is assigned to U.S. Judge Peter C. Economus in Youngstown. Gruscinski declined to comment on the case.
Charges: The indictment by a federal grand jury in Cleveland says that between 1991 and 1996, Sfara Bruno conspired with former county Prosecutor James A. Philomena and an unidentified former assistant county prosecutor, among others, to unlawfully reduce charges in driving under the influence cases in county courts in Austintown and Boardman in exchange for bribes, campaign contributions and gifts.
"The conspirators made money, sought to make money, and attempted to make money by soliciting, accepting, offering, and paying bribes involving persons facing criminal and traffic charges in Mahoning County, Ohio, in exchange for lenient treatment by" Philomena, the indictment reads.
The indictment says Sfara Bruno, Philomena and others fixed seven DUI cases, either reducing or dismissing charges. In exchange for fixing the cases, Sfara Bruno gave Philomena between $500 and $1,000 on two occasions, as well as unidentified gifts and a $500 campaign contribution on other occasions, the indictment reads.
Sfara Bruno could not be reached.
Her Cleveland lawyer, Patrick M. McLaughlin, said Wednesday that an indictment is merely a charge, not evidence of guilt. He said his client is a well-respected attorney who has helped a lot of people in civil and criminal cases in Mahoning County and beyond.
The indictment says a Sfara Bruno client paid her between $500 and $1,000 to pay off Philomena to reduce charges in cases he had in Austintown court in 1995 and 1996.
Sfara Bruno and Philomena "obstructed, delayed, and affected commerce by extortion, that is, by obtaining property from another with that person's consent under color of official right, in that, on behalf of a client who made consensual monetary payments to her," according to the indictment.
If convicted, Sfara Bruno could face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and/or a $500,000 fine.
Resigned as magistrate: The Vindicator reported in December that Sfara Bruno's resignation as a Youngstown magistrate came the same day the FBI told the municipal court's presiding judge that she was under criminal investigation.
At the time, Sfara Bruno said that she was not aware of the FBI's visit to Youngstown Judge Robert P. Milich nor the investigation.
She insisted she resigned from the $50,000-a-year, part-time job she held for more than 12 years because of her increased private law practice, family commitments and the anticipated extra caseload she would have because the Youngstown judges removed Andrew G. Bresko, the other magistrate, from the bench.
"I just don't have the physical stamina to keep basically doing two full-time jobs and motherhood. I just can't do it," she said at the time.
In prison: Philomena admitted in September 1999 that he took bribes while in office and is serving a four-year federal prison term.
McLaughlin, responding to the possibility that Philomena might be called as a witness, said: "I can't imagine that Mr. Philomena would have any credibility anywhere, in light of what I've read about him."
Others convicted in the case-fixing scheme include Fred H. Bailey, former county judge in Austintown; and defense attorneys Jack V. Campbell, Stuart J. Banks and Lawrence J. Seidita. Also, James A. Vitullo, a former assistant county prosecutor, and Russell Saadey Jr., a former prosecutor's investigator, face charges in connection with the case-fixing enterprise.