Tsagaris has last laugh with wrist tap

By Bertram de Souza

Just two months ago, this space was dedicated to the proposition that an officeholder who corrupted the system by taking a loan from an area businessman seeking to do business with government would have the book thrown at him. How naive to believe that defrauding and depriving the citizens of honest public service is an egregious act deserving of punishment.

The column of June 14 was about former Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris and carried this headline: “Tsagaris can’t be chuckling these days.”

Yes, he can — based on what happened Tuesday during his sentencing in United States District Court in Cleveland. Judge Sara Lioi, in an act of judicial sleight-of-hand, sent Tsagaris home because of the “law-abiding life you have led up to now.” The 75-year-old former commissioner will spend one year of electronically monitored house arrest to begin within 30 days, three years’ probation and will pay a $4,000 fine.

Praise the Lord

So, how much of an inconvenience will he endure while wearing an ankle bracelet? You decide. Tsagaris will be permitted to go to church — if the judge can forgive, who is God to withhold his blessings? — go to work and keep his doctor’s appointments.

And what did Tsagaris have to do to receive that tap on the wrist? Nothing, zilch, nada. Just saying he was sorry did the trick.

He claimed memory failure when asked to identify the businessman who gave him the $36,551 loan in 2004 while he was commissioner. He took the money, never signed a loan agreement, was not given a repayment schedule and there was no interest rate established. In other words, referring to the transaction as a loan is a misnomer. Interestingly, while Tsagaris could not remember the name of the businessman — even when squinting his eyes in total concentration — he did know for sure that he didn’t do any favors in return for the money. Can anyone define “selective memory loss?”

Judge Lioi did point out during sentencing that Tsagaris acted on behalf of the businessman and voted in his capacity as a commissioner on matters that personally benefited the individual. Yet, she chose not identify him.

To add insult to the injury suffered by Trumbull County — violating the public’s trust is injurious because it diminishes respect for government — Tsagaris’ lawyer offered one of most arrogant responses to a legitimate question.

Asked by a reporter if he would tell the public the businessman’s name, Atty. Michael B. Bowler of Akron quipped, “It would be a cold day in hell.” Why?

Even the federal prosecutors refused to divulge the identity of the man who provided Tsagaris with the loan.

Why the willingness of everyone involved in the law-and-order business to keep the identity of the individual secret? Could it be that he is so powerful that his influence reaches the highest levels of the criminal justice system? Inquiring minds would certainly want to know.

Does it not matter to Judge Lioi and the U.S. attorneys office that every businessman who did business with Trumbull County in 2004 has been indicted in the eyes of the public?


So, why did the judge show such mercy to a man who admitted to using his public position for personal gain? There are many reasons, but the one that is most indicative of her misreading of the egregiousness of what Tsagaris did is her contention that his crime did not result in the loss of any county tax money.

Did she not know that the Mahoning Valley’s history of government corruption has made it the subject of national derision?

As for the former commissioner’s health problems, just about every white-collar criminal has some ailment that makes imprisonment cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s a thought: Given that Tsagaris will be in the comfort of his own home, perhaps his memory will be jogged as he watches reruns of the television hit show “Sopranos,” in which loaning money to government officials is standard operating procedure.

Then again, with his memory fading he may forget he’s sitting at home.

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