MAHONING COUNTY Behind bars, Chance awaits appeal outcome
The former sheriff now has company at his Michigan prison.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's been nearly 21/2 years since ex-Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance appealed his racketeering conviction and went to prison.
As of Wednesday, no decision has been made on the appeal, and Chance was still at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Mich.
A three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati heard oral arguments in the Chance appeal Sept. 20, 2001.
If two of the judges agree that significant error occurred in Chance's trial, the case would be sent back to Cleveland federal court for a new trial. If a majority agree that harmless error occurred, the conviction would be reaffirmed.
The oral arguments were heard by appellate Judges Alice M. Batchelder and R. Guy Cole Jr. and Sandra S. Beckwith, a district judge sitting by designation. The judges on the appellate court, which is short-handed, are appointed by Congress.
The appellate court in Cincinnati is composed of 19 judges and reviews appeals from the federal district courts in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. It also reviews appeals from the U.S. Tax Court and certain federal administrative agencies where the non-governmental parties are from the states that make up the 6th Circuit.
The court's Web site shows hundreds of cases in various stages of appeal.
Surprised by delay
The time involved in Chance's appeal surprises Youngstown attorney Don L. Hanni Jr., who believes part of the problem could be the voluminous number of cases appealed. "It does seem late; you can usually expect an opinion three to four months after oral arguments are heard," he said.
Hanni said appellate reviews include reading sections of the defendant's trial transcript.
"You point out those pages that shore up your assignment of error," Hanni said. "In effect, you're saying, 'Here's what the court did to deny me a fair trial.'"
Hanni said the 6th Circuit is really "the court of last resort" because the U.S. Supreme Court hears so few cases each year.
Chance, of Youngstown's West Side, filed an appeal of his conviction in December 1999 and reported to prison Jan. 24, 2000 for a 71-month term. His projected release date, with good time, is March 19, 2005, said Dan Dunne, federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman in Washington, D.C.
A jury found Chance guilty July 13, 1999, and he resigned as sheriff three days later. The corruption case centered mostly on his 1996 election, when he sought the financial support of Lenny Strollo, the Mahoning Valley's organized crime boss.
The infusion of mob money into Chance's campaign was aided by Charles P. O'Nesti, longtime district director for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., of Poland, D-17th. O'Nesti, who pleaded guilty to bribery and other charges shortly before his retirement took effect in March 1998, died before being sentenced.
The FBI said Chance received $10,000 from Strollo, through O'Nesti, for a fund-raiser.
Traficant, meanwhile, is following in Chance's footsteps.
The congressman, who will turn 61 Wednesday, said he intends to appeal his April 11 racketeering conviction. His sentencing is set for June 27 in Cleveland federal court.
New arrivals, meanwhile, at the federal prison in Milan include James A. Philomena, former Mahoning County prosecutor, and Russell J. Saadey Jr., an Austintown businessman and former prosecutor's investigator for Philomena.
With good time, Philomena, who reported to the prison April 16, is expected to be released June 30, 2003. He then must serve a state prison sentence.
Philomena has been moved several times since his four-year federal term commenced Jan. 5, 2000.
No release date was available for Saadey, who reported to the prison Friday to begin a 55-month sentence. Saadey, who was sentenced April 19, was found in possession of a gun two days later during a domestic dispute, which speeded his incarceration.