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CLEVELAND Sfara Bruno pleads innocent to extortion and conspiracy



Published: Sat, September 29, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The lawyer's bond has been set at $250,000 and her trial for Dec. 4.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- The former Mahoning County prosecutor whom Boardman attorney Lynn Sfara Bruno says she didn't bribe to fix DUI cases is now a government witness and scheduled to testify next week in a related case.

Sfara Bruno, 41, of Southwoods Boulevard, professed her innocence at arraignment Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court.

She is accused of being part of a case-fixing conspiracy that included ex-Prosecutor James A. Philomena and an unidentified assistant prosecutor.

Her two-count indictment, handed up Sept. 12, charges extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion.

If convicted, she faces up to 20 years and $250,000 fine on each count.

What's alleged: The government, represented by Thomas J. Gruscinski, said Sfara Bruno gave Philomena cash, gifts and campaign contributions between January 1991 and December 1996.

The bribes ranged from $500 to $1,000.

In return, Philomena, now in a federal prison, directed the assistant prosecutor to reduce or dismiss DUI charges for Sfara Bruno's clients, the government said.

The indictment lists five cases, four of which were in Mahoning County Court in Austintown when James A. Vitullo served as assistant prosecutor there.

In December 2000, a federal grand jury indicted Vitullo and Russell J. "Champ" Saadey, a businessman and former prosecutor's investigator, on charges that include case fixing.

Their trial starts Tuesday in U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley's court with jury selection.

Philomena, who reached a plea agreement with the government in September 1999, is on the prosecution's witness list.

Other convicted prosecution witnesses are Fred H. Bailey, former judge in the Austintown court, and attorneys Stuart J. Banks, Jack V. Campbell and James R. Wise.

What's scheduled: At Sfara Bruno's arraignment Friday, Judge O'Malley set a $250,000 unsecured bond and trial for Dec. 4. A final pretrial hearing will be held Nov. 28.

The judge restricted Sfara Bruno's travel to northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The Boardman lawyer explained in court that her parents, who live in Pennsylvania, help care for her child.

Outside court, one of Sfara Bruno's Cleveland lawyers, John F. McCaffrey, told reporters that his client is "shocked and saddened" by the charges in the indictment and will "defend her reputation."

McCaffrey said they look forward to trial. Her other lawyer is Patrick M. McLaughlin.

Sfara Bruno resigned as a Youngstown Municipal Court magistrate last December after the FBI told the presiding judge that she was the target of a criminal investigation.

She told The Vindicator she left the $50,000-a-year part-time job because of her increased private law practice.

meade@vindy.com




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