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Ex-judge faces fraud charges



Published: Fri, December 4, 2009 @ 12:10 a.m.
  Cronin Police Tape

Maureen Cronin Police Tape

Maureen Cronin Police Tape

By David Skolnick

The counts against Maureen Cronin carry a maximum prison term of 20 years.

YOUNGSTOWN — Maureen A. Cronin faces a probable prison sentence after being charged with two federal felony counts related to concealing an $18,000 “loan” from a “senior executive of a business with multiple cases pending before” her.

Cronin has been convicted twice, in 2005 and 2007, of operating a vehicle while impaired. She resigned as judge in July 2007, two months before her second OVI conviction.

It’s a long way from 1994 when she was the first woman elected as a Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, a position she had for more than 12 years.

“I am, as every citizen should be, deeply troubled by the fact that a judge, a member of the bar, has apparently broken the law and abused the public trust,” said David Betras, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Betras is an attorney who served as defense counsel in front of Cronin and as a former special prosecutor in the county’s fraud corruption probe of the late 1990s.

Cronin and her attorney, J. Gerald Ingram, waived “prosecution by indictment and consent that the proceeding may be by information.” A bill of information typically means a person accused of crimes is cooperating with authorities and agrees to be found guilty of the charges.

The bill, filed Thursday, states Cronin, a former three-term judge, took $18,000 in cash from an unnamed senior executive of an area business in the back seat of that person’s car.

Cronin then presided over pending and newly filed cases involving that company and its affiliated businesses “without disclosure or recusal,” the bill states. Federal prosecutors said Cronin presided over more than 50 civil lawsuits involving that company and its affiliates.

Bill Edwards, a U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman, refused to disclose the name of the senior business executive or that person’s company.

“We never name people who aren’t charged,” he said.

Cronin “engaged in a scheme and artifice to defraud and deprive Mahoning County, and the citizens of Mahoning County, of their intangible right to her honest services,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Cronin’s case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Boyko, whose court is in Cleveland. No court appearance for Cronin was scheduled as of Thursday.

The charges stem from Cronin’s failure to publicly reveal the loan, and for concealing it by not including the loan on annual state financial disclosure statements for 2006 and 2007.

The bill states she failed to disclose “her self-enrichment and conflicts of interest while [serving] as a common pleas judge.”

Cronin was required by state law to include the loans on the disclosure statements she had to file through the mail annually with the Ohio Supreme Court’s board of commissioners on grievances and discipline.

Judges must list the names of all creditors living or transacting business in Ohio to whom they owed or had owed at any time during the calendar year more than $1,000, something she didn’t do, the bill reads.

Cronin is charged with two counts of “honest services mail fraud.”

The bill states Cronin took a no-interest loan with no payment schedule or collateral.

The maximum sentence for convictions on the two counts is 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, Edwards said.

A source familiar with the investigation, however, told The Vindicator that Cronin could expect to receive a federal prison sentence of 12 to 18 months.

Cronin, 59, couldn’t be reached Thursday to comment by The Vindicator by telephone or at her Youngstown home.

A document filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office said Cronin’s case “is related to [the] criminal case” of former Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris. Tsagaris was found guilty in August of honest services mail fraud for accepting a $36,551 loan from an unidentified local businessman in late 2004 while he was a commissioner without reporting it on his state financial disclosure statements in 2005 and 2006.

Tsagaris then acted on behalf of that businessman, voting in his capacity as a commissioner on matters that personally benefited that person, said U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi, who sentenced Tsagaris to one year of electronically monitored house arrest.

The businessman has never been identified.

The Youngstown office of the FBI investigated the case. Officials there declined to comment.

“The citizens of Mahoning County suffer when elected officials violate the public trust,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “When someone charged with the responsibility of doing justice is alleged to have violated that trust, we will act swiftly to investigate and prosecute those involved and to restore confidence in the judicial system.”

He added that the filing of the charges against Cronin “demonstrates our commitment to investigating and prosecuting allegations of corruption in the Mahoning Valley.”

In the late 1990s into about 2002, dozens of public officials and attorneys were convicted of fraud and other related criminal counts.

Betras said he doesn’t believe Cronin’s charges hurt the Valley’s reputation.

“We have to demand honesty from our public officials,” he said. “I’m not going to tolerate anyone having their hand in the till.”

Scott R. Cochran, president of the Mahoning County Bar Association and Cronin’s attorney when she was convicted of her second OVI, couldn’t be reached Thursday to comment.

Atty. James B. Dietz of Youngstown, immediate past president of the bar association, said, “We certainly don’t condone any conduct such as that, whether it’s from a judge or from a lawyer.”

The reaction in the courthouse Thursday ranged from disappointment to sadness.

County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said, “I’m disappointed that a public official would engage in such behavior. We, as public officials, are not above the law.”

Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court said, “It’s a very unfortunate situation that Judge Cronin got herself into, and, unfortunately, it’s another black eye for Mahoning County.”

“It certainly doesn’t help the public perception of the judiciary or the legal system,” agreed Judge Beth Smith of Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court.

Atty. Mark A. Huberman, chief magistrate of Mahoning County Domestic Relations Court, said, “I knew her when she worked for [Mahoning County] Children Services way back when, and it’s just a sad way to end your career. ... It’s sad for her, sad for the bar and sad for everyone.”

Cronin’s rise to prominence in the Valley legal community was as quick as her fall.

About two years after getting her law degree, then-Youngstown Mayor Patrick Ungaro selected her in 1988 as city prosecutor, the first woman to have that position.

“Her ethics and her honesty were absolutely outstanding when she was my city prosecutor,” Ungaro said. “She was a major plus for me and the city at the time.”

That’s what makes these charges all the more “troubling and disturbing,” Ungaro said.

After about six years as city prosecutor, Cronin ran for a county common pleas court judicial seat.

skolnick@vindy.com

milliken@vindy.com


MAUREEN A. CRONIN

Time line

1977 to 1983: Works as a social worker for the Mahoning County Children Services Board.

1985: Hired as a clerk and in late 1986 she is selected as an assistant prosecutor at the Youngstown Law Department.

July 1988: Selected by then-Mayor Patrick Ungaro as city prosecutor, Cronin, then 34 years old, becomes the first female to hold that position in Youngstown. The appointment is effective September 1988.

February 1994: Announces she’d run for a county common pleas court judicial seat.

April 1994: The Mahoning County Bar Association finds her “unqualified” as a candidate for the judicial position.

May 1994: Wins a close Democratic primary for the seat.

November 1994: Wins the general election for the six-year judicial position beating an incumbent. She becomes the first woman elected to the county court of common pleas.

November 2000: Is re-elected to a second six-year term.

February 2002: Considers running for the 17th Congressional District seat, but eventually opts to remain a judge.

April 2005: Found guilty of operating a vehicle while impaired.

November 2006: Is elected to a third six-year term.

July 2007: Resigns her judicial position.

September 2007: Convicted of a second OVI with her attorney acknowledging she had issues with alcohol. She is placed on one years’ probation, 18 days of house arrest and ordered to serve five days in jail. She also resigns from her position as a part-time instructor at Youngstown State University.

December 2009: Charged with two felony counts of “honest services mail fraud” by the federal government. She’s accused of taking an $18,000 “loan” from an unnamed “senior executive of a business with multiple cases pending before” her and concealing it.

Source: Vindicator files


Comments

1wastepro(46 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

What Company paid her off? Maybe the readers have had cases against this company and the decisions were not in the readers best interest.

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2candystriper(575 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

"I'll take care of it"

contact veteran journalist Curtis Wilkie about writing your story...sell it as a Lifetime movie...say no to City Confidential.

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3Tugboat(759 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Funny how, on deSouza's 'court consolidation' thread, Betras thought the 'everyone obeying the law' concept was a bad idea.

Why, in April 1994, did the Mahoning County Bar Association find her “unqualified” as a candidate for the judicial position?

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4dd933(229 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Didn't Judge Cronin help to expose the coruption at MVSD when Eddie Flask and his buddies were caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

I always thought she was a fair judge.

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5Heard_it_all_before(62 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Public corruption in any form should not be tolerated by the citizens OR by other public officials. There is an affirmative duty to speak out clearly to condemn such gross abuse of power and office.

Those who are vocal against corruption are often targeted for abuse that has taken many forms. Threats, being forced out of their positions, even being attacked and shot in their own homes. I had hopes that the culture of criminality and the "everybody does it" mentality would begin to change after the corruption probes in Mahonibng and Trumbull Counties in the late 1990's. It seems that there is far less scrutiny of public officials lately and that can mean that those so inclined can perpetrate their abuses without much risk of detection.

There are many rumors of abuse right now, to include questionable hiring practices (friends, relatives, cronies, bag men) of people not qualified. So long as there is no outrage, there will be no solution. There are so many disincentives that confront honest people who would be great leaders if they would only shoulder the burden of ethical public service. It takes incredible courage and personal sacrifice to serve with honor, and it is hard to blame someone who doesn't want to subject him/her self of their families to the consequences of running for or being appointed to ethical leadership positions.

Politics in the Valley are often euphamistically described as "rough and tumble" - but it can be downright life-changing and dangerous. We seem to punish those who do not "go along" with the powerful status-quo players. Still, there are those who take up the challenge and work quietly for the greater good. The challenge for Mr. Betras and his counterpart on the republican side would seem to be avoiding the pitfalls of "name recognition" in favor of supporting more honest, but less well known canditates. The names of the political leadership power people have changed little in the recent past. It would be nice to see some meaningful contests between well qualified and ethical candidates. Machine politics begets corruption - does anyone have the courage to buck the system? Are any significant number of voters paying attention? In the final analysis, we get the kind of government we deserve. After all, we keep putting them in there (think Jim Traficant!)

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6apollo(1227 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

I can relate to the above statements by Heard it all before. Anyone who points out the corruption is then attacked mercilessly. Anyone who would run for office that might be clean and honest doesn't have a chance to win because it takes money that usually comes from the corrupt power brokers. We all know who they are. The status quo corruption and connections machine is still well in command of this valley's politicians and judges.

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7Silence_Dogood(1344 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

I have no idea who the unnamed Business Man/Woman is or what company he/she works for but the part about handing out money in the back of a car sure sounds familiar, What federal court case about a Congressman I think had money passing back and forth in the back of a car .Boy I just can't remember, but I will try and take a few guesses.
1) Cafaro
2) Cafaro
3) Cafaro
4) Cafaro
5) Cafaro
6) Bunny the big Ear
7) Wally the Walrus
8) Sammy the Snake
9) Paully the Panda
10) Jimmy the Jabberwocky

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8Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

“Her ethics and her honesty were absolutely outstanding when she was my city prosecutor,” Ungaro said. “

Maureen has been flying under the radar for years . Now she is in a new chapter of her life . EXPOSED !

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9TAXEDOFF(118 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Anyone with half a brain would be able to figure out it's probably the same person Tsagaris was given cash to and he can't seem to remember the name.
then of course there was Jimbo, who was riding around Youngstown State University. and he was handed cash in an envelope in a chauffeur driven vehicle,

Seems there's what the police call an M.O. while somebody riding around in a car being handed. an envelope full of cash

1. Jimbo getting an envelope full of cash

2. Tsagaris got an envelope.he said he forgot from who

3. Cronin doesn't name the local business man???

She said she got the money in the backseat of the car. Wonder what else is going on in the backseat??

THE PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW

THIS IS THE LAST STRAW IT'S TIME THE VINDY STARTS DEMANDING SOME ACTION

We used to have a couple of active citizens groups like the Citizens League or the Accountability Tax Force. but those were labeled as Nattering Nabobs of Negativity BY THE VINDICATOR so Vindicator stand up and do your damn job.

P.S Three subpoenas have been issued to the County Auditor, County Treasurer., and one Commissioner, where is the outcry from the Vindy to have the judges come down on these corrupt officials

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10knucles518(39 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Lets see Cronin cant name the business man that handed her cash. And they say the Mob is gone in Youngstown. This gives all apperences that its not

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11fedupinytown(2 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Like Silence_Dogood pointed out above, I think we all know who the unnamed business executive is, although no one is saying it's a man. One local business in particular is a family affair, and that family includes a woman who is now an elected official. Maybe it was time to pass the torch and let the next generation hand out the envelopes of cash.

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12Silence_Dogood(1344 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “When someone charged with the responsibility of doing justice is alleged to have violated that trust, we will act swiftly to investigate and prosecute those involved and to restore confidence in the judicial system.”

He added that the filing of the charges against Cronin “demonstrates our commitment to investigating and prosecuting allegations of corruption in the Mahoning Valley.”
This man Dettelbach talks out the side of his mouth, he seems to see only one side of the coin. Every one can figure out this is a BRIBE except him. Is he really that naive , or does he take us for a bunch of idiots. The person giving out the interest free "LOAN" without any repayment schedule is in all odds BRIBING . When it is done over several years to several Politicians , its called corruption. There are TWO parties to this corruption the one giving and the one recieving, except when it is overlooked then there are THREE parties to this corruption.The third being those that choose to overlook as if there is no pattern evident.

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13Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

If the Feds didn't go after her Maureen would not be prosecuted for anything that she did while on the bench . She was amazed when the State Trooper nailed her for driving drunk . Yep Maureen, IT'S ALL GOOD !

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14VABuckeye(14 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

Karma's a bi**h, ain't it Mo? aybe you should have treated people a little better when you first got your start.

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15Lifesnadir(164 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm surprised no one asked what "honest services mail fraud" means as a charge.

if you are curious, here is an attempt to make it more understandable:
http://legalschnauzer.blogspot.com/20...

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16UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

When will Cafaro be indicted? Everyone knows that is the company making the payoffs.

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17Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 9 months ago

"When will Cafaro be indicted? Everyone knows that is the company making the payoffs."

Yea, but they are afraid to mention JJ Cafaro in the news . How would they ever indict him ? He should have been given some slammer time when he bribed Jim Traficant .

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