YOUNGSTOWN Man who stole playground funds gets jail
Jail time for the man who stole the playground money was important to coalition members.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Harry Strabala's own words came back to bite him.
Judge R. Scott Krichbaum cited a phrase that Strabala often repeated to fellow volunteers -- there is a special place in hell for people who steal from children -- in sentencing the Youngstown man to jail Wednesday for doing exactly that.
Strabala, 50, of Mount Vernon Avenue, received 90 days in jail and five years' probation.
He pleaded guilty in February in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to felony theft by deception. He faced up to 18 months in prison.
Strabala took $33,835 from the 7th Ward Citizens' Coalition playground project at Ipe's Field. He was the group's former president.
Despite the theft, the South Side playground was built this spring with the city's financial help. Most of the money recovered goes back to the city.
Strabala said his compulsive gambling, for which he is being treated, was the root of the theft. Strabala told the court he was sorry and ashamed of what he did.
Judge Krichbaum said he usually keeps sentences to probation when money is repaid. Sentencing was delayed through the spring and summer while Strabala's family worked through a probate case to free up the money, which was paid in full two weeks ago.
It didn't seem right, however, to let Strabala go with just probation, considering the crime, the judge said.
Strabala's lawyer, Maridee Costanzo, said before sentencing that it would hurt if her client received jail time. She and her husband, Atty. Roger Bauer, had hired Strabala to work in their law office and they trust him with checks and cash.
She sought a sentence of community service. The prosecution didn't object to an Adult Parole Authority recommendation of just probation.
Afterward, Costanzo said only that she and her client would respect the judge's decision.
Jail time was important to coalition officials.
Wanted the maximum
Marty Novotny, who headed the playground project, wanted the maximum sentence imposed but expected only probation.
Novotny told the judge before sentencing that repaying the money doesn't address Strabala's abuse of trust and power. Probation would mean that only the family would "pay" for the crime, Novotny said.
Jail time will help coalition members reconcile what happened, Novotny said afterward.
"That's where people feel better," he said.
He also was the one who told the judge how Strabala would often criticize people who steal from children.
Wallace Dunne, coalition president, said he was glad the judge required Strabala to continue treatment for gambling. That's the best way to ensure that Strabala doesn't steal money again, Dunne said.