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Bruno's indictment should prompt Youngstown probe



Published: Mon, September 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Boardman Atty. Lynn Sfara Bruno has been indicted by a federal grand jury for her role in a case-fixing scheme that lasted from 1991 to 1996 -- a period of time during which she served as a magistrate in the Youngstown Municipal Court.

If Sfara Bruno pleads guilty or is found guilty of the charges of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, and extortion under color of official right, we believe the city of Youngstown should hire a special prosecutor to determine whether her tenure on the municipal bench was also tainted. She served from 1988 to January of this year, when she resigned.

If Sfara Bruno is found to have conspired with former Mahoning County prosecutor and now federal jailbird James A. Philomena, an unidentified former assistant prosecutor, and others to unlawfully reduce charges in drunken driving cases in county courts in Austintown and Boardman in exchange for bribes, campaign contributions and gifts, it would be fair to investigate whether she was also crooked while serving on the municipal bench.

Sick leave: It is worth recalling that Sfara Bruno was earning about $50,000 a year with full benefits for working much less than 40 hours a week when she left the court. But she didn't leave empty handed: the city paid her $9,908 for accumulated sick leave.

It galled us then and it galls us today that Sfara Bruno and the other former magistrate, Andrew Bresko, were permitted to take advantage of the taxpayers for so long. Bresko, who was hired in 1980, resigned in December 2000.

Last year, a special state performance audit of city government pointed out that the municipal court never formally identified whether Bresko and Sfara Bruno were full-time or part-time employees. Yet, auditors noted, Bresko had accumulated 2,262 hours of sick time, while Sfara Bruno had 1,103 hours. Part-time employees are not permitted benefits.

How was it that the two magistrates who did not work 40 hours a week in municipal court received salaries generally paid for full-time work and got fringe benefits? The taxpayers of the city have never received a straight answer.

Payment: Instead, Ohio Auditor Jim Petro concluded that the city should pay them for the unused sick leave. Why? Because, Petro said, there was no clear-cut job description that would show their employment status, while there was documentation that seemed to suggest the magistrates were placed in the full-time category simply to make them eligible for benefits that city employees who put in 40 hours a week receive.

Given Sfara Bruno's indictment, the door is now open for the city of Youngstown to launch its own investigation into the activities of the former magistrate.




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