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It doesn’t pay to act as if you’re above the law



Published: Fri, December 11, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

It doesn’t pay to act as if you’re above the law

The arrogance of the Mahoning Valley’s corrupt political class is legendary.

Local folks have seen it for decades — and some even contribute to it by warmly welcoming convicted felons back to the fold — but it was apparently a mystery to much of the outside world.

And that, at least in part, explains why former Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris thought the house-arrest rules set by a federal judge didn’t apply to him. And it may also explain why the judge finally reacted harshly to Tsagaris’ transgressions.

U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi, who was too kind to Tsagaris in August when she spared him any jail time, dropped the hammer on him Thursday.

Judge Lioi, who was overly impressed in August when the 75-year-old Tsagaris appeared in her courtroom nicely dressed, polite, even deferential, seemed surprised that the same man took the gift of freedom she gave him and abused it.

Tsagaris pleaded guilty to two counts of honest-services mail fraud for receiving a $36,551 unsecured “loan” that carried no interest and no repayment schedule from an unnamed businessman. He could have been sent to a federal penitentiary for up to two years, but Lioi gave him probation and placed him under house arrest. He was given permission to go to work, doctors appointments and church.

Doing as he pleased

Instead, he took to hanging out at McDonald’s, visiting a cigar shop run by a long-time friend and supporter and grocery shopping with his sister.

Those are not the actions of a man who feels chastised for his wrongdoing. It is the behavior of an unrepentant crooked politician who felt as comfortable about accepting $36,551 from a man who did business with the county as he did about ignoring the provisions of his house arrest.

It mirrors the arrogance shown by former Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin. She accepted a similar loan from the same unnamed businessman, whose company had cases pending in Cronin’s court.

It should be remembered that these are elected officials who were in office while dozens of other Mahoning Valley politicians and hangers-on were caught up in a major crackdown on corruption and mob influence in the area. Did they think that no one was watching anymore? Or did they think that they were above the law?

Well, Tsagaris, anyway, now knows otherwise. Perhaps some of those 32 people who wrote glowing letters of recommendation for Tsagaris in August (including a retired judge) should have taken him aside and impressed on him the importance of following the terms of his probation to the letter. By not doing so, he not only showed contempt for the law and the judge, he betrayed those supporters who vouched for him.

Judge Lioi, who passed up the opportunity to sent Tsagaris to the slammer for 18 months to two years in August, listened to the prosecutor’s recommendation that Tsagaris be sent to prison for three to nine months and be allowed to report after the holidays. The judge apparently ascribes to the adage, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. She gave him the full nine months and told him to be ready to report within 10 days.

Meanwhile, he remains under house arrest. Tsagaris would be wise not to step out for coffee or a cigar in the meantime.


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