David Robison, former director of planning and engineering for the city of Warren, says he's truly sorry for violating the public trust by taking bribes and kickbacks from construction projects in the city. His mea culpa was heard this week in federal court in Cleveland after he pleaded guilty to 19 counts of mail fraud and one court each of extortion and racketeering.
Pardon us if we take a cynical view of his appearance before U.S. District Court Judge Solomon Oliver Jr. After all, when Robison was indicted earlier this year, he maintained his innocence -- even when others involved in the bribery and corruption schemes had pleaded guilty.
We, therefore, ask: What brought about this change the heart? Was it that the former city official, who also served as the city's acting community development director, realized that his goose was cooked when one of his co-conspirators, Gregory G. Petrasek, former Ohio Edison manager, agreed to assist the federal government in its case against him? Petrasek resigned more than two years ago from Ohio Edison.
For those sympathetic souls who take exception to our cynicism, we would simply point out that in too many cases relating to government corruption in the Mahoning Valley, expressions of deep regret and acts of contrition have become standard fare. Once caught, public officials who have brought shame to this region and have undermined residents' trust in government suddenly find religion.
It shouldn't be that easy.
A plea agreement should be entered into with the understanding that information about other corrupt public officials is the key to leniency. Why? Because such corruption is infectious.
Only the most naive would believe that Robison and James Lapmardo, former chief building official, were the only two in City Hall involved in the schemes. Lapmardo, pleaded guilty in November 2004 and received a sentence of three years and five months. There had to have been others.
Before Judge Oliver sentences Robison -- the likely prison term has a range of 33 to 44 months -- he should make sure that federal prosecutors are completely satisfied that the former city engineer has told all he knows.
Indeed, Warren Mayor Michael O'Brien has made it clear that Robison worked under a previous administration and that he since he took office "... we've done the best we can do to change this type of climate of paying-as-you-go."
Where will it lead?
Reading between the lines, O'Brien appears to share our opinion that others in city government were involved with Robison and Lapmardo.
"My poor judgment in these matters has totally ruined me, and I would hope that the citizens of Warren would still have faith and respect for their public officials and work with them," Robison said in court.
But given the ongoing investigation into the purchasing scam in Trumbull County government, the probe in Warren and the widespread investigation of government corruption and organized crime in Mahoning County that resulted in 70 convictions, "faith" and "respect" aren't words that come to mind when talking about the public sector in the Mahoning Valley.