Mob-tie allegation infuriates judge
Judge Krichbaum said he's been scrutinized by investigators and come out clean.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge R. Scott Krichbaum angrily denied an allegation Tuesday that he was once cozy with a local mob figure.
The allegation was lobbed by Atty. James Callen, who is running against Judge Krichbaum for Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge in the November election.
"This is nothing but political rhetoric," Judge Krichbaum said. "I defy him to offer one shred of evidence or proof that any of that is true."
Callen said testimony in the trial of associates of former mob boss Lenny Strollo indicated that Judge Krichbaum "had a relationship" with one of Strollo's associates, Bernard Altshuler.
That alone, Callen said, should be reason enough for voters to "fire" Judge Krichbaum at the polls.
"It's unacceptable for a judge to have a relationship with mobsters," Callen said.
He did not describe the nature of the alleged relationship and said he knew no details other than comments that were made by Strollo and former Campbell law director Michael Rich during federal court trials of Altshuler and other mob associates Lavance Turnage and Jeffrey Riddle.
Strollo had testified that there were discussions about trying to fix the 1996 case through James A. Philomena, county prosecutor at the time. Philomena has denied that.
At one point, Altshuler, in a recorded conversation, discussed talking to "Scotty" and there were other references about talking to the judge to seek shock probation for Turnage.
Callen also referred to comments Altshuler made in the private conversations with Strollo and Rich, which were secretly taped by the FBI and used during the trials.
Altshuler, Turnage and Riddle are serving life in prison after being convicted in both federal and state courts of racketeering. Authorities said they participated in the killing of Ernie Biondillo, who was Strollo's rival in organized crime.
The three also participated in the shootings of Prosecutor Paul Gains and Atty. Gary Van Brocklin, both at Strollo's bidding.
Strollo pleaded guilty to racketeering in February 1999 and has not yet been sentenced. Rich pleaded guilty to obstructing state and local law enforcement and served 10 months in a federal prison.
Callen said he believes Altshuler used his alleged relationship with Judge Krichbaum to influence the outcome of a 1996 case in Judge Krichbaum's courtroom.
He pointed to a comment in which Altshuler said he would talk to "my friend upstairs," and said the comment referred to Judge Krichbaum.
The case involved Turnage, who was facing a trial for robbing an Austintown home. The case was before he was charged in connection with the mob-related activities.
Krichbaum fires back
During an interview with Vindicator editorial writers and reporters, Judge Krichbaum denied having a relationship with the mob, said he was never approached or influenced by anyone, and questioned the timing of Callen's allegations.
"Isn't it funny that this case was six years ago and he never said anything about it until he decides to run for judge," Judge Krichbaum said. "I think it speaks to the type of campaign he's running. It's not about who's the best candidate."
Judge Krichbaum said his understanding of the background is that the mobsters wanted Turnage's robbery trial delayed, which the judge refused to do. He said the shooting of Van Brocklin, who represented Turnage, and a fire in the courthouse attic were the mob's attempts to get the trial delayed. Turnage eventually pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced to three to 15 years in prison.
Judge Krichbaum said Altshuler's comment about "the man upstairs" actually referred to former county prosecutor James A. Philomena, not him. Philomena is serving time in a federal prison for fixing cases while he was in office.
Judge Krichbaum said he and other judges were interviewed by the FBI to see whether there was any hint of corruption.
"The ones who were bad are in the penitentiary," he said. "The ones who are above reproach are still on the bench."
Callen said he can't point to any examples of Judge Krichbaum's rulings being affected by his alleged relationship with Altshuler.
"I don't think you have to show quid pro quo," he said. "When you become a public official you don't have the right to associate with whoever you want to. It's unacceptable."