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CLEVELAND Judge reaffirms Chance's sentence



Published: Sat, February 15, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The ex-sheriff was unable to pay for a lawyer so the judge appointed one.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- A federal judge says she could have justified sending ex-Mahoning County Sheriff Phil Chance to prison for 10 years -- instead of nearly six -- for racketeering crimes.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley said Wednesday that, while Chance's lawyers had wanted a three-year sentence, the government wanted it to be 10 years. She determined 71 months was appropriate "to balance the overall circumstances."

She said other good things he did should not be ignored.

Appeals court's request

The 71 months Judge O'Malley imposed in November 1999 -- and reaffirmed Wednesday -- is a stiffer sentence than recommended by federal guidelines. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati wanted her to redo the sentence and expand on her decision to give more time than the guidelines recommend.

She said the appellate court found fault with her reference to Chance's being a chief law enforcement officer as part of the reason. The guidelines take that into consideration, she said.

Judge O'Malley said Chance, as sheriff, was in a position to advance racketeering activity countywide. Public confidence in government entities was greatly reduced in Mahoning County because of him, she said.

The judge said Chance wasn't some cop on the street taking a bribe. He accepted bribes from organized-crime figures and violated state campaign finance laws.

Chance's lawyer, Angelo F. Lonardo of Cleveland, suggested that a reduction from 71 months was in order, considering others in high-ranking positions received less time. He mentioned, among others, James A. Philomena, the former county prosecutor now in prison.

Craig S. Morford, assistant U.S. attorney, said the Mafia had its own police force when Chance was sheriff. The federal prosecutor said Lonardo's reference to Philomena and the others was comparing apples and oranges because they pleaded guilty.

Began sentence

Chance, 53, of Youngstown's West Side, began serving his prison sentence Jan. 24, 2000. With good time, his projected release is March 19, 2005, from the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Mich.

On July 13, 1999, a jury found Chance guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, RICO conspiracy, obstruction of justice and two counts of extortion. He resigned as sheriff three days later.

The corruption case centered mostly on his 1996 election campaign, when he sought the financial support of Lenny Strollo, Mahoning Valley mob boss at the time.

Chance appealed his conviction, and Sept. 19, 2002, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the obstruction conviction and one extortion conviction, ruling that the evidence did not support the verdicts.

Lonardo acknowledged that reversal of the two counts didn't affect the sentence. The basis for the sentence was the RICO conviction and sentences for the other convictions were ordered to be served concurrently.

"I think this will end the saga," Lonardo said after court. "Everyone can get on with their lives."

Judge O'Malley, after reviewing a financial form submitted by Chance stating that he could not afford a lawyer, agreed to appoint Lonardo. Chance showed his monthly income as $75 to $100 and his wife's as $1,200.

Chance feared he might lose his $25-a-week prison job if he traveled to court to be resentenced and waived his right to attend. His wife, son, daughter and a few friends did attend.

Chance didn't describe the type of work he's doing. Lonardo said he didn't know.

meade@vindy.com




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