First, an apology to federal prosecutors in Cleveland who kept mum about the identity of the businessman who gave former Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris a “loan” of $36,551. The prosecutors were ripped apart in this space on Aug. 23 for refusing to divulge the name of the individual who played Let’s Make A Deal in 2004 with the then county commissioner.
Tsagaris, now 75 years old, claimed memory loss when asked to identify his benefactor. He is spending one year of electronically monitored house arrest after being convicted of using his public position for personal gain.
His lawyer went a step further, telling reporters “It would be a cold day in hell” before he named names.
And even federal Judge Sara Lioi, who pointed out during the sentencing that Tsagaris acted on behalf of the now infamous “senior executive of a business” and voted in his capacity as a commissioner on matters that personally benefited the individual, chose not to identify him.
Here’s what was written in this space about the feds’ refusal to put a face on the evil one:
“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.”
Well, inquiring minds now know. On Thursday, federal prosecutors revealed that the businessman who loaned Tsagaris the money is the same individual who slipped $18,000 to former Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin.
Cronin, who resigned her judgeship July 1, 2007, after 13 years on the bench, will plead guilty to accepting the $18,000 “loan” from the “senior executive of a business” and concealing the transaction.
But unlike Tsagaris, who used his supposed health problems to get a tap on the wrist from the judge, Cronin will probably spend between 12 and 18 months in a federal penitentiary.
Why the different treatment for two individuals who have both contributed to the corruption of government in the Mahoning Valley? Because Cronin was a judge when she took the money from the businessman whose companies had lawsuits pending in her court; Tsagaris was just a shill.
Documents filed last week that reveal Cronin’s admission to taking the “loan” do not suggest a quid pro quo.
But, it is a safe bet the money wasn’t given for altruistic reasons. If it were, both the giver and the taker would have declared the transaction on the appropriate forms and would have signed agreements laying out the terms and conditions of the loan.
It is instructive that Tsagaris never signed a loan agreement, was not given a repayment schedule and there was no interest rate established.
Using the word loan to describe the transaction is to give the benefit of the doubt to the participants.
Maureen Cronin’s fall from grace is at once angering and saddening. In her heyday as the city of Youngstown’s prosecutor and then as a common pleas judge she was dedicated, knowledgeable and always accessible to the press. She had nothing to hide — in those days. But then her life took an unfortunate turn and today she is just another portrait on the Valley’s wall of shame.
As for the businessman, just about every area resident who has followed the saga of government corruption in the Mahoning Valley must know who he is.
Getting a pass
Federal prosecutors are no doubt aware that we’ve grown tired of the corrupters of our public institutions getting a pass. It is right and necessary that those who violate the public’s trust are made to pay for their sins, but nothing will change until individuals who have no qualms about corrupting government are called to account.
Former Judge Cronin’s admission comes in the midst of a federal and state investigation of the so-called Mahoning County Job and Family Services relocation scandal. At the heart of the probe is the role played by Anthony Cafaro, head of the Cafaro Co., in attempting to block the JFS from leaving his company’s plaza on the East Side.
The department is now located in the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place, formerly Southside Hospital.