Ex-judge faces fraud charges

Cronin Police Tape

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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.




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

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