By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The assistant Mahoning County prosecutor handling the election fraud investigation says Mark A. Hanni, who founded the Republicans for Real Reform movement, is not suspected of violating any election laws.
The sheriff's department filed election fraud charges against two Real Reform precinct committee candidates and a former court of appeals candidate, who used to share office space with Hanni's father, because the addresses on documents they filed at the board of elections do not match their place of residence.
"If it leads to that, it leads to that, but, at this point, it probably doesn't," Kenneth Cardinal, assistant county prosecutor, said of Hanni as a suspect. "He was the figurehead. The mere fact they pledged their allegiance to him" doesn't mean he did anything illegal.
"I didn't do anything wrong so I don't see me as a suspect either," Hanni said when told of Cardinal's comments.
Michael Prozy, a Real Reform Republican precinct committee candidate, was arrested on a felony count of election falsification and a misdemeanor count of election fraud, and the sheriff's department filed a warrant for the arrest of James Roman, another Real Reform Republican precinct committee candidate, for the same charges.
Sheriff Randall Wellington said the two filed documents with false addresses to run for precinct committee positions with the board of elections, and neither actually lived in those precincts.
Also, Atty. T. Elliot Hough, a Republican write-in candidate for a seat on the 7th Ohio District Court of Appeals, faces two felony counts of election fraud and one felony count of election falsification. Wellington said Hough registered to vote in a precinct in which he does not live and also listed false addresses for himself on documents to run for the court seat with the elections board. Hough was not a Real Reform candidate, but he used to share office space with Atty. Don L. Hanni Jr., Mark's father. The older Hanni is Prozy's attorney.
Hough, who told the sheriff's department he lives out of his car, and Prozy were arraigned today in Mahoning County Court in Austintown. Hanni and John F. Shultz, Hough's attorney, sought the dismissal of the cases, contending the county court did not have jurisdiction.
If crimes did occur, they said, Youngstown Municipal Court would be the proper venue.
Judge David A. D'Apolito asked the attorneys to file written motions within 14 days on the jurisdiction issue. Pretrials are set for July 1.
Shultz said Hough is the "victim of selective prosecution." Hanni also thinks it is possible his client has been singled out.
About the group
The Real Reform group attempted to take control over the Mahoning County Republican Party by fielding candidates in many of the county's 312 precinct races. But the group did not capture a majority of precinct seats so the current party establishment remains in power.
As founder of the group, Hanni recruited many of the Real Reform precinct committee candidates. Prozy, of Mathews Road in Boardman, told deputy sheriffs that Hanni was aware that he did not live in the Canfield precinct in which he was running for committeeman.
But that is not enough to prosecute Hanni, Cardinal said.
"Unless you have people willing to step forward and testify as to how they got involved, forget it," he said. "What the conversations were between Hanni and others, we don't know. But I can't see anything with [Hanni]. I don't want to besmirch anybody especially when you don't know what was in the minds of these people."
The investigation will wrap up in the next few weeks and additional charges are expected to be filed, Cardinal said.