The sheriff said he asked commissioners by letter earlier this week for jail food to go through the bidding process.
By STEPHEN SIFF
and PEGGY SINKOVICH
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Trumbull County commissioners on Wednesday will consider giving other companies a chance to sell food to the county jail.
Jail officials were told last September that Acme Steak, of Youngstown, would become their primary food supplier, after James Tsagaris, a Trumbull County commissioner, and Tony Carson, county purchasing director, determined the company offered the best prices.
Since then, Acme has done $112,000 worth of business with the jail with no formal contract. A contract to provide jail food has never been put out for competitive bidding.
An item authorizing Carson to draw up bid specifications for potential food vendors for the county jail and the juvenile detention center has been placed on the commissioners' agenda.
Leo Connelly Jr., 54, executive vice president of sales at Acme Steak Co., is on parole for a burglary conviction for which he served nearly six years in a Pennsylvania prison.
At its first meeting with jail officials Sept, 12, 2001, Acme Steak was represented by Connelly, of Austintown. He was described by FBI agents in a 1998 Vindicator story as an enforcer and bag man for mob figures Lenny Strollo and Joey "Little Joey" Naples. At the time he denied the allegations but said he was a friend of Strollo's.
"I don't know what my criminal past has to do with Trumbull County's account," Connelly said. "We have 26 employees; I'm one of them."
Ernie Cook, chief of operations for the sheriff's department, and the jail chef were introduced to the new food supplier at a Sept. 12 meeting with Carson, Tsagaris, and three employees of Acme Steak including Connelly.
"I was told we had no say in the matter," said Cook. "I was told the county purchasing program prevails, with little input from this department."
Tsagaris did not return calls to his home and office.
County Sheriff Thomas Altiere said he asked commissioners by letter earlier this week that jail food be put out to bid after learning that Acme had gotten the jail's business without going through the bidding process.
With some exceptions, counties can't buy more than $15,000 worth of goods from a single supplier without awarding a contract through competitive bidding, said Jim Misocky, first assistant Trumbull County prosecutor. Jail food is not one of the exceptions, he said.
"I have been in favor of bidding it out all along," said Michael O'Brien, a Trumbull County commissioner for 11 years. "I didn't have the support."
If it will save the county money, bidding out jail food is a good idea, said Commissioner Joseph J. Angelo Jr.
"We saved 27 percent over last year," he said. "We have to sit down with the prosecutor and see if we can play one vendor's prices against another vendor's prices to see who will provide us with the best total package."
He said that he doubted the commissioners have the authority to bid out a food contract for the juvenile detention center without the permission of Judge Pamela A. Rintala. The juvenile detention center has purchased $68,000 of food this year from several different vendors. It does not use Acme.
The jail did business with Acme in the past, but stopped because of dissatisfaction with the quality of meat and flour, Altiere said.