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MAHONING COUNTY Oakhill sale spurs lawsuit from Cafaro



Published: Tue, August 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The lawsuit calls the purchase 'secretive and unlawful.'

By NANCY TULLIS

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- After being named in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the sale of the Oakhill Renaissance Place to Mahoning County, county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino restated his position that he won't verify any money is available to pay the purchase price or other expenses until county commissioners give him more information.

Sciortino told commissioners in a letter last week he needs to obtain information regarding all financial obligations the county will assume with the building, not just the $75,000 purchase price.

Sciortino was named in a lawsuit filed Monday by lawyers for Ohio Valley Mall Company, 2445 Belmont Ave., a company of developer Anthony Cafaro Sr. In part the lawsuit seeks to block any action by Sciortino related to the sale or rescind any action he may have already taken.

Sciortino said he has taken no such action, and needs copies of all contracts the county will assume in connection with the building and its liabilities, including the cost of moving county offices to the Oak Hill facility.

The lawsuit requests that Mahoning County Common Pleas Court rescind the "purported acquisition" of Oakhill Renaissance Place, restrain the county from taking any further action toward buying it, restrain the auditor from certifying any contracts on the sale of the building or any assumption of liability, and restrain the county from any further expenditures or disbursement of money.

Commissioners have a lease agreement with the Cafaro family for a portion of McGuffy Plaza, where Job and Family Services is housed.

Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt have stated their intent to relocate Job and Family Services and other county offices to Oakhill Renaissance Place. Commissioner John McNally IV is opposed to the purchase.

Named in suit

Sciortino, McNally, county Treasurer John Reardon, Traficanti, Ludt, Administrator George Tablack and Prosecutor Paul Gains are all named in the lawsuit. Traficanti, Ludt and Tablack are also named individually for damages in the amount of any county money spent or disbursed "in connection with the acquisition, management or management of the property, in violation of Ohio law."

"They're raising the point of whether or not state law is being followed," McNally said.

"It looks like they read our objections."

McNally, Reardon and Sciortino attempted to block the sale by filing a motion to stop it before the bankruptcy hearing, but failed.

Cafaro's lawsuit is a taxpayer complaint and states the purpose is to rescind the county's purchase for the benefit of taxpayers of Mahoning County, and "to prevent these same officials from expending any county resources in connection with this secretive and unlawful transaction in violation of Ohio law."

According to the lawsuit, the commissioners discussed the purchase May 25 in an executive session, and did not further discuss the purchase in a public session before Traficanti and Ludt voted to authorize the prosecutor and administrator to make an offer on the property.

The lawsuit also claims that the county does not have the money to buy the property, nor to operate it.

Oakhill's former owner, the nonprofit Southside Community Development Corp., filed for Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy May 3 and the county assumed ownership of the building July 28. Located at 345 Oak Hill Ave., the building was formerly Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

Ludt could not be reached to comment; Traficanti declined to comment Monday. Traficanti referred comments to Gains, who was not available.

Tablack also declined to comment Monday, stating he did not have time for an interview.




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