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Feds serve notice to Trumbull County



Published: Wed, January 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By publicly stating that the conviction of a Vienna Township contractor on a charge of bribing a Warren city official is the tip of the iceberg, the FBI has confirmed what had been speculated for quite some time: the federal government's crackdown on government corruption in the Mahoning Valley is now focused on Trumbull County.

For the past several years, Mahoning County had been the primary target, resulting in the conviction of more than 70 individuals, including top elected officials such as former Prosecutor James A. Philomena. But the impact of the war on crime goes beyond the removal of crooked politicians and government bureaucrats from our midst and the dismantling of the Mafia in the Valley. The war has forced residents of Mahoning County to recognize a simple truth: Corruption existed for so long because we let it.

The failure of voters to demand high-quality representation at every level and the attitude that "It has always been this way" enabled the Philomenas of the world to enrich themselves at the public's expense.

But now Mahoning County is on the mend -- and it's Trumbull County's turn.

Guilty plea: Last week, James Matash, 39, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison after pleading guilty to paying $5,000 to James Lapmardo, who worked in the city of Warren's engineering, planning and building department, to secure a demolition contract. Here's what John Kane, agent-in-charge of the FBI's Youngstown office, had to say about Matash's conviction: "It's not going to stop with him as far as the chain of command goes in the city of Warren."

Kane pointed out that Matash's case is part of a much larger investigation and that the involvement of Lapmardo, who no longer works for the city, has prompted investigators to scrutinize the activities of other city officials.

Given that, we urge the FBI and federal prosecutors to make sure that the dismantling of the criminal enterprise in Trumbull County takes place sooner rather than later. Crooked officeholders and other government officials who have corrupted the system must not be allowed to remain on the public payroll one day longer than is absolutely necessary.

As the Mahoning County campaign has shown, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland are prepared to work with individuals who broke the law, but who are now willing to make a deal -- leniency in exchange for pertinent information that would lead to the masterminds of the criminal enterprise.

Since it isn't just the city of Warren that has been the focus of the FBI's probe, we look forward to the lid being blown off county government at all levels and other political subdivisions.

As Matash's lawyers, J. Walter Dragelevich of Niles, a former Trumbull County prosecutor, and Joseph Gardner of Canfield, argued during sentencing, their client is a law-abiding citizen who was told that paying bribes to secure government contracts is the way business is conducted in the Mahoning Valley.

With the federal government leading the charge, law-abiding citizens of the region may soon be able to say, "that was the way business was conducted."




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