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SABATINE CASE Leaders' letters swayed judge



Published: Wed, August 28, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Sabatine sobbed as he expressed remorse at his sentencing.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Many notables offered support for convicted contractor James R. Sabatine Sr. -- including priests, the Cafaro Co. president, a state representative and a Trumbull County commissioner and engineer.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells read more than 100 letters sent to her by Sabatine's family, friends, neighbors, lawyers, business associates and priests before sentencing him Tuesday to 10 months. Most of the letters recalled how long the writers had known the 50-year-old Canfield man and described him as a caring family man and generous and honorable person.

Judge Wells appeared moved by the outpouring of support. What emerged from the letters, she said, is a man who stands tall, who made the decision early on to cooperate and never wavered.

She said that, as an old Army kid, she learned the "no excuses" philosophy and linked it to Sabatine's reference to the values his parents taught him. "You become a beacon to others," the judge said of his acceptance of responsibility.

Roughly 15 family members and friends filled the gallery, some sobbing, as did Sabatine when he expressed his remorse to the judge. He apologized for his actions to his family, friends and the Mahoning Valley.

He said his 10-year-old son asked why he did such bad things then shook a finger and said: "Dad, don't you ever do that again."

Sabatine was sentenced to five months' incarceration, possibly in a community based halfway facility, and five months' electronically monitored house arrest, followed by two years' supervised release. He remains free on $500,000 bond until notified by the federal Bureau of Prisons where to report.

Racketeering crimes

Last August, Sabatine admitted engaging in a pattern of racketeering between June 1993 and December 1999 and filing a false tax return for 1994, understating his income by $239,000. Most of the crimes were bribes paid to officials in communities where Sabatine's now-liquidated Hardrives Paving and Contracting did work.

Sabatine also admitted giving $2,400 to James A. Traficant Jr. in 1998 after the now-imprisoned ex-congressman solicited farm work in return for using his influence to secure a rail line the contractor wanted to serve an asphalt plant in Youngstown. Sabatine paid the money to avoid the farm work after his own attempts with railroad officials proved futile, said his Cleveland lawyer, Mark A. Stanton.

Stanton described his client in court as someone dragged into the undertow of corruption who, in the mid-1990s, also paid then-Mahoning County Engineer William P. Fergus $20,000 after the Meridian Road paving project. Sabatine paid after being threatened by an associate of mob boss Lenny Strollo, the lawyer said in court.

There was no one to turn to, Stanton said, mentioning the others in power at the time who were corrupt, such as the sheriff, Phil Chance; the Mahoning County prosecutor, James A. Philomena; and Traficant's district director, Charles P. O'Nesti, now deceased. The alternatives, Stanton said, were not clear-cut.

The corruption, Stanton said, was pervasive, deep and generational. Sabatine had tried to live his life as a law-biding citizen but succumbed to the pressures, the lawyer said.

Stanton told the judge that Sabatine, as a child in 1962, was friends with a son of Youngstown rackets figure Charles Cavallaro, who was killed with his father when a car bomb exploded. Sabatine just missed being in that car, Stanton said.

Praise from Cafaro

Anthony M. Cafaro, meanwhile, president of the Cafaro Co., a real estate development firm, said in a letter to Judge Wells that he has known the Sabatine family for nearly 30 years. Cafaro said he has found the entire family to be solid and contributing members of the community.

In business dealings, Cafaro said he found Sabatine consistently straightforward, honest and highly principled.

Cafaro, in asking for leniency, said incarceration would serve no useful purpose to society.

Cafaro's brother, J.J. Cafaro, will be sentenced Dec. 4 for his part in rewarding Traficant with cash and gifts for official favors.

Sabatine and J.J. Cafaro testified at Traficant's trial this past spring. The jury did not find Traficant guilty of the single racketeering act that involved Sabatine.

Traficant, of Poland, is serving eight years in a federal prison in central Pennsylvania.

Other supporters

Others who wrote on Sabatine's behalf were Trumbull County Engineer John D. Latell Sr.; state Rep. Kenneth Carano, D-65th; Trumbull County Commissioner Joseph J. Angelo Jr.; Ray Travaglini of Ray Travaglini Enterprises; The Meshel Group, Harry Meshel; All Sports Travel, Charles Saulino, president; Truenorth Management, Mark E. Lyden; and Mahoning County Sanitary Engineer Joseph Warino.

Letters were also sent by priests from St. Christine Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, St. Anthony Church and St. Maron Parish.

A letter included in the packet dated Dec. 1, 2000, addressed to Sabatine (not Judge Wells) from Bishop Thomas J. Tobin thanks the paving contractor for providing driveway asphalt for the bishop's new residence in Liberty.

Stanton said Sabatine got involved with a minority contracting scam through Renee Smith of Youngstown, who once owned Tone Crack Sealing and Supply. Set-aside state contracts were passed through Smith, who is black, to Sabatine, who is white.

Sabatine, Stanton said, didn't approach Smith; she approached him.

Smith's lawyer has said she was a victim. Smith also received a 10-month sentence this month, split between incarceration and house arrest.

Richard H. Blake, an assistant U.S. attorney, said he never asked a federal judge to give a defendant as much credit for cooperation as he did Tuesday for Sabatine.

Sentencing

The recommendation placed Sabatine in the 10- to 16-month range. Without the departure from the sentencing guidelines, Sabatine faced 27 to 33 months in prison.

His 10-month sentence includes a $7,500 fine; restitution of $8,750 to Mahoning County and $10,082 to Struthers (split with two former employees); the cost of house arrest ($3.01 per day); and more than $66,000 to the IRS.

Sabatine's net worth had been calculated at $2.3 million by the court's pretrial services department. Stanton said the loss on investments the past six months has reduced the net worth to $1.3 to $1.5 million.

Sabatine is expected to testify at trial next month in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court against Ronald A. Carcelli, 49, of Elm Street, Struthers. Carcelli, retired Struthers street department foreman, is accused of taking about $5,000 in bribes from Sabatine, then doctoring weigh slips to make it appear the city used more asphalt than it actually did.

In return for his testimony, Sabatine will face no state charges, an assistant county prosecutor has said.

meade@vindy.com




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