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MAHONING COUNTY CCA chief settles suit involving ex-sheriff



Published: Sat, February 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Dr. Richard Billak, CCA's chief executive, said the settlement vindicates him and the agency..

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The price you pay for saying someone is going to be indicted on criminal charges and interfering with his business is $75,000.

That's how much former Mahoning County sheriff Phil Chance and Adolescent Counseling and Treatment 1 will pay to settle a lawsuit filed against them by Dr. Richard J. Billak, chief executive officer of Community Corrections Association.

The parties reached an out-of-court agreement this week.

"The agency and I personally feel this settlement agreement vindicates us from the actions of the ex-sheriff," Billak said. "The amount of the settlement is significant enough to indicate the substantial nature of his actions against us and, therefore, we feel it satisfies justice."

Trial was set: The matter was set for trial Feb. 25 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court with Visiting Judge Stephen A. Yarbrough presiding.

CCA and Billak sued Chance in 1997, contending that while Chance was sheriff, he wrongly told county commissioners they should not contract with Billak to provide services to county jail inmates because he was going to be indicted on criminal charges.

No charges were ever filed against Billak, however.

"Our primary objective in filing this lawsuit was to regain the reputation and integrity of both myself and the agency, which Chance attempted to malign," Billak said.

About company: ACT 1 of Canfield offers jail inmate services similar to those offered by CCA. The company sued CCA and Mahoning County in 1997, trying to block CCA from being allowed to provide inmate services.

Billak's suit was filed as a countermeasure against ACT 1 and Chance, who was sheriff at the time. It says Chance and Richard Simmons, ACT 1's chief executive officer, conspired to have CCA removed as a service provider for the county and replaced by ACT 1, which is where Chance worked before becoming sheriff. ACT 1 eventually dismissed its suit.

Billak's suit accused Chance, Simmons and ACT 1 of slander and interference with business practices.

Since Chance was sued in his capacity as sheriff instead of as an individual, Ohio law required the county to provide him with defense. Prosecutor Paul Gains said the county opted to handle it in-house rather than hiring an outside lawyer.

Irony noted: "It is somewhat ironic that my duties required me to defend a man convicted of hobnobbing with people who tried to kill me," Gains said. He was shot in 1996 because the mob did not want him to take office.

Chance is serving a federal prison sentence for racketeering charges. Authorities said he was in cahoots with local mob leader Lenny Strollo, who has admitted ordering Gains' shooting.

Gains said he was prepared to take the Chance case to trial, but agreed to the settlement when Billak and CCA made a "reasonable" settlement offer.

"It closes the case out," Gains said. "It closes a chapter in Dr. Billak's life, it closes a chapter in the county's life, and it closes a chapter in Chance's life."

bjackson@vindy.com




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