MAHONING COUNTY Sfara Bruno's lawyer says U.S. broke rules in tax probe filing
The defense attorney said the government calculated his client's worth all wrong.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- When the government revealed in a court filing that Boardman attorney Lynn Sfara Bruno is the subject of a criminal tax investigation, it "overstepped the bounds of propriety," her lawyer said.
In an expedited motion filed late Monday, Patrick M. McLaughlin, one of Sfara Bruno's Cleveland lawyers, attached a copy of a Vindicator story published Saturday that reflected the government's position.
The position was explained in a 77-page challenge to a motion Sfara Bruno's lawyers had filed seeking to recoup $73,161 in legal fees and other expenses.
Sfara Bruno, 41, of Southwoods Boulevard, said she spent the money gearing up for a Dec. 4 bribery trial. The government's request to dismiss her Sept. 12, 2001, indictment was granted Nov. 9 by U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley.
Argument for fees: In seeking the fees, Sfara Bruno's lawyers want Judge O'Malley to conclude that actions by the FBI and federal prosecutors in pursuing the extortion case were "vexatious, frivolous and/or in bad faith."
Meanwhile, McLaughlin wants Judge O'Malley to either strike the government's 77-page response, written by Thomas J. Gruscinski, an assistant U.S. attorney; or have it filed under seal. McLaughlin also wants Judge O'Malley to direct the government to retrieve copies of Gruscinski's filing that may be in the hands of anyone outside the Department of Justice.
Saying it would compound the harm already inflicted on his client if he has to respond to the government's challenge in a public motion, McLaughlin wants guidance from Judge O'Malley. He has also asked for more time to file his full response.
McLaughlin called Gruscinski's lengthy response malicious and said it was a "shocking display of prosecutorial indifference to the fair administration of justice." He said it violates several rules regarding the dissemination of information regarding criminal proceedings, matters before a grand jury, plea discussions and privacy.
"What the government failed to achieve in its aborted indictment of Mrs. Bruno, it seeks to achieve through this vexatious filing and its obvious promotion of prejudicial publicity, which makes a mockery of the fair administration of justice," McLaughlin said in his motion.
Criminal investigation: In challenging Sfara Bruno's motion for fees, Gruscinski said she "utterly ignores the fact that she is still the subject of a valid, ongoing criminal tax investigation. She has not been vindicated."
In essence, Gruscinski contends that though Sfara Bruno may be off the hook for fixing DUIs, she failed to tell the IRS how much money clients really paid her for the fixed cases.
As an example, Gruscinski cited one DUI client from whom Sfara Bruno collected $10,000 but reported only $2,500 to the IRS. "The same pattern held true for virtually all of the cases listed in [Sfara Bruno's] indictment," he said.
Sfara Bruno's indictment said she gave James A. Philomena cash, gifts and campaign contributions between January 1991 and December 1996 to fix cases when he served as Mahoning County prosecutor.
On Nov. 2, a month before her scheduled trial, Sfara Bruno agreed to plead guilty to tax charges if the bribery indictment were dismissed -- then changed her mind two days later, Gruscinski said in his challenge to her attempt to collect legal fees.
Why case was dropped: Gruscinski said Philomena's recollection of a September 1996 DUI wavered after he spoke to Sfara Bruno's lawyers, though he still maintained that Sfara Bruno had paid him several times to fix other DUIs. With the 1996 case in doubt, the government had none in the indictment that met the five-year statute of limitations and sought to dismiss the indictment.
"In any of these situations, it was not the outcome of the DUI case that was illegal," Gruscinski said in court papers. "It was [Sfara Bruno's] payment of a bribe to Philomena that was illegal -- regardless of what ultimately happened in return."
Net worth: McLaughlin said Gruscinski has used his opposition to Sfara Bruno's recouping fees as a license to spew false and unsupported allegations improperly on the public record. As an example, McLaughlin said, his client's worth is not more than $2 million, as Gruscinski has stated.
McLaughlin said the calculation is misleading and incorrect because it does not take liabilities into account. He also points out that some assets the government used in its calculation are not his client's.
Judge O'Malley could rule on the motions and responses once they're all submitted or conduct a hearing.