DISTRICT COURT Warren bribery leads to prison
The FBI says more indictments are on the way.
By AMANDA C. DAVIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
CLEVELAND -- A Vienna contractor on his way to prison for his role in unlawfully acquiring a contract for a hotel demolition project is one piece of a much larger puzzle.
So says the FBI, which has maintained a continued presence in Warren, calling the prosecution of James Matash, 39, the tip of the iceberg.
Judge Lesley Brooks Wells of U.S. District Court here sentenced Matash on Thursday to one year and one day in prison and three years' supervised release and fined him $3,000.
Officials said adding one day to the yearlong sentence means Matash could be eligible to serve a few months of his sentence in a halfway house if he behaves.
Matash, of Centennial Drive, apologized to the court and the government, saying, "What I did was wrong, without a doubt."
One bribery count: Represented by Attys. J. Walter Dragelevich of Niles and Joseph Gardner of Canfield, the owner of M & amp;M Demolition Inc. was convicted of one count of bribery for agreeing to pay $5,000 to a Warren city official to secure a demolition contract on the Hotel Regency.
He pleaded innocent in April to a charge of extortion and a charge of program fraud and in September pleaded guilty to the bribery charge.
Charges were changed as part of a plea agreement.
He faced up to 18 months behind bars and up to $30,000 in fines for the bribery charge.
M & amp;M has handled many Warren jobs, including demolition of the hotel on U.S. Route 422, which was destroyed by arson in 1999.
The demolition contract was for $108,421. A portion of the cost, $83,421, was paid for with a federal Community Development Block Grant.
City council at that time voted against using CDBG money but was told the formal bidding process was bypassed and M & amp;M was already paid because the site was deemed a safety hazard.
More to come: John Kane, agent-in-charge of the FBI's Youngstown office, said Thursday several other area contractors will face prosecution on allegations of bribe-taking.
He would not say if those cases are tied to Matash's.
Contractors who know they're under suspicion still have time to contact the FBI to talk, Kane said.
He added that Matash's sentence will likely set a precedent for other contractors who are convicted.
The indictment did not list the official whom Matash is alleged to have paid off, and the city has declined to release that information.
Judge Wells identified him Thursday as James Lapmardo, who worked in the engineering, planning and building department.
Lapmardo, who no longer works for the city, has not been charged.
In a written statement to the court, Matash said Lapmardo made it clear to him he wouldn't get the contract without paying.
His lawyers argued Matash is a law-abiding citizen, but was told that this is how business is done in the Mahoning Valley.
Sees it differently: Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas Getz said the government has evidence that it was Matash who approached Lapmardo, offering the money to secure the contract.
Without being specific, he said there's also evidence that the hotel demolition contract was not the first one Matash secured in this manner.
Kane said that Matash's case is part of a much larger investigation and that the involvement of Lapmardo has prompted authorities to take a closer look at other city officials.
"It's not going to stop with him as far as the chain of command goes in the city of Warren," Kane said.
In the past year, the FBI has taken numerous sets of city records from community development, the auditor's office and engineering, building and planning.
The FBI has extended its probe, seeking documents related to building and construction projects, including those involving the Hotel Regency and other projects M & amp;M worked on.
Matash was fired in 1996 as equipment operator with the city water department. He was convicted in October 1996 of three misdemeanor counts of receiving stolen property, and authorities said he and others planned and facilitated thefts on city time.