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A decade’s worth of uplifting columns

Published: Sun, December 27, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

By Bertram de Souza

It didn’t take long in 2000 for this column to become the beacon of all that’s bright and beautiful about politics in the Mahoning Valley. Who would have thought that the headline in January a decade ago, “Time behind bars is a breeze,” would become the foreword to a woeful chapter in our region’s history?

Here’s what was written: “Who says crime doesn’t pay? Certainly not the newest additions to the Rogues’ Gallery in the Mahoning Valley. Their time behind bars will be a breeze, literally. And when they emerge from their respites, they’ll still have the fruits of their criminal labors to make it all worthwhile.

“So all together now, ‘We are family/Lenny and Philly and me ...”

“Lenny,” of course, was Lenine “Lenny” Strollo, this region’s claim to Mafia fame, the godfather of the local mobsters, the man who made the phrase “Murder is only business” a part of our cultural lexicon. Strollo turned out to be a coward when confronted by the feds about his illegal activities, including the bribing of elected officials. He became a major snitch for the government, and in return got a feathered tap on the wrist. His 12 years behind bars were easy time for a man who ordered the murder of his mob rivals. Strollo is now out and enjoying the blood money the feds allowed him to keep.

Former prosecutor

“Philly” referred to the corrupt former prosecutor of Mahoning County, James A. Philomena, who used his office as some Third World bazaar, where deals were made and cases disappeared for so many pieces of gold.

Here’s what was written about him: “There’s James ‘Pretty Boy’ Philomena serving his four-year sentence at a former Air Force base in Montgomery, Ala. The Federal Prison Camp is a minimum-security facility with no cells, no barbed-wire fencing and no blood-thirsty guard dogs.”

Philomena returned home from his prison stint and died in September 2007.

From that column in January 2000 to the one last week headlined, “Traficant plays us, the press, for fools,” there were hundreds relating to corruption in the Mahoning Valley, with the King of the Corruptibles, James A. Traficant Jr., the subject of regular commentary — most of it negative.

Why? Because he just couldn’t keep his nose clean.

“Traficant should stop ducking;” “Traficant should identify FBI agent,” “Traficant must provide rape proof.” And on and on.

There was even a column in 2004 that was a poetic cry: “Will we never be rid of Traficant?” read the headline.

The answer, after a decade that included this blight on our community going to federal prison for more than seven years, is a resounding “No.” That’s because too many Mahoning Valley residents have drunk his Kool-Aid.

The past 10 years also brought uplifting columns about the region’s blowhards, led by Marc Dann, who pompously attacked Republicans for sullying politics when he ran for attorney general, and then became the Sullier-In-Chief after taking office.

Along with another blowhard, Leo Jennings, the attorney general gave new meaning to the phrase “Cock-and-bull story.”

There were even a couple of columns that were guided by the hand of God, such as this one headlined, “Blessed are the criminals? Read on”

Here’s what was written, in part:

“It is not surprising that politicians, by and large, rise to the defense of one of their own — especially when one has had a brush with the law. But for the grace of God go I — or something to that effect.

“However, when the intervention seems divinely inspired, all sorts of questions come to mind, foremost of which is this: What price redemption?

“The history of corruption in the Mahoning Valley is replete with apologists for those who have done wrong. But there is something untoward when individuals whose job it is to guide us on the straight and narrow seek to influence how the wayward are punished.

“Over the years, this space has featured letters from men and women of the cloth to judges preparing to sentence corrupt public officials. And yet, such letters still surprise.”


In a decade of political sludge and scum in the Mahoning Valley, the most depressing aspect for a long-time observer is that our crooks from the public and private sectors didn’t have sense enough not to get caught.


1JAB(41 comments)posted 6 years, 7 months ago

Both Dann and Jennings should both be sent to prison. We all know that they are two extremely corrupt and evil people. Neither one of them have an ounce of honesty or integrity. As said in the past, if you hire Jennings you can be sure of two things, dishonesty and you can guarantee Jennings will bring you down.

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2Heard_it_all_before(62 comments)posted 6 years, 7 months ago

The Vindicator and Bertram de Souza in particular take a lot of heat on these pages for their constant discussions about crooked politicians like Traficant, Dann, et al. It is my belief that these criminals would still be in office and the attention of the criminal justice system would wander if the media watchdogs were called off.

Working in a public position of trust shoud mean that all your actions and decisions are under a microscope. Corruption is insidious and this region has a high tolerance for behavior that would raise eyebrows anywhere else. Gambling, rackets, organized crime and political robber-barons are winked at and sometimes proudly defended like some kind of twisted folk heroes. Meanwhile, public funds meant for needed services are siphoned into the pockets of the very people we trusted to represent our interests.

Until we insist that Ohio's strict ethics laws are enforced, there is no hope that crooks and their hack cronies will be kept out of public life. Stop taking the free meals, trips and other perks and start paying attention to the real reasons why you were elected or appointed. I hope the Vindy and its staff keep working to expose all the dark corners and closets of those who let the power corrupt them. Without that scrutiny, one can only imagine the abuses that would be perpetrated.

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3Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 6 months ago

Let's not forget Gary Van Brocklin ,who was Strollos lawer, being elected to the Prosecutors office in 1984.

I believe that he is still licensed to practice law .

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4PresleyKristen(3 comments)posted 6 years, 6 months ago

Okay. Enough is enough. Do you ever think of the families of these people? Obviously not because you have no idea how much these articles can cause. This crap happened over 10 years ago, most of the people in this valley have gotten over it, I think you too should. What's the good in bringing it up over and over again? IT'S IN THE PAST, LET IT STAY THERE. Yes it changed the valley and it was wrong but it's over and done with. There's so much more important stuff to worry about. I've asked you time and time again to leave my Dad out of your articles especially since you can't ever write a nice thing about him. If you only know him as a politician you only know half of him. He was a husband, a brother, an uncle, a son, a friend and most importantly a Father. If you don't know him as BOTH a politician and a family man then you don't know him. I am so sick and tired of you dredging this up. My Father is DEAD, let him rest in peace damnit. You're talking trash about a DEAD person, how manly do you feel? If you're going to continue to talk crap on my Dad, then I suggest you come to my place of employment and talk it straight to my face. You have no problem talking crap about people in your column but I guarantee you can't say anything face to face. I don't condone what my Dad did but he paid his debt to society so move the hell on! Yes, we know you hate my Dad. Get over it. I know EXACTLY why you dislike my Dad so much, and honestly, you should try taking responsibility for what YOU'VE done.

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5angelbaby07068(1 comment)posted 6 years, 6 months ago

I completely agree with you. THE PAST IS THE PAST. does this man really have nothing better to write about than all that was corrupt in the valley nearly 10 years ago. Come on. I personally knew Mr. Philomena he was a great person and couldn't have loved his daughter more, maybe you should focus on the important things in life. He paid for what he did and he became a great person from it. You have no right to sit there and bring up the past. It's disgusting and maybe if this was you and your family you would truly understand what it has done to them.

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