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Oakhill prosecutor questions secrecy motives

Published: Thu, December 9, 2010 @ 12:08 a.m.

By David Skolnick



A prosecutor in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal case questions the motives of attorneys for some defendants who want court records sealed.

The attorneys for retired businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.; his sister, Flora; the family-owned Cafaro Co.; and two company subsidiaries say they want the seal on bills of particulars to protect their clients’ Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial.

They also say The Vindicator, which they claim has a “well-documented institutional bias” against their clients, would publish the information making it difficult to find an unbiased jury.

The request could be “a transparent attempt to suppress material that might not be viewed in a light favorable to the defendants,” wrote Paul M. Nick, a special prosecutor, in a Nov. 23 filing, unsealed this week.

Bills of particulars are documents that detail specific illegal acts prosecutors claim were committed by the accused.

Hundreds of pages of documents in this case under seal since early September were made public this week by the judge overseeing the case.

That came after Marion H. Little Jr., an attorney for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV, successfully argued Monday that no legal reason existed to keep several pretrial documents under seal.

Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr., hearing this case, isn’t expected to decide until next week on making public the bills of particulars.

The high-profile case accuses Anthony Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co., as well as that company and two of its subsidiaries of criminally conspiring with two current and two former Mahoning County officials.

Specifically, the accusations are that they attempted to criminally impede the move of the Mahoning County Department of Job and Family Services from the Garland Plaza, a building owned by the Cafaro Co., to Oakhill.

Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, purchased by the county in 2006. JFS moved there in 2007.

At the time of the move, Cafaro was president of his multi-million-dollar, family-owned company.

Also indicted in the 73-county conspiracy case are county Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon, and ex-county JFS director John Zachariah. The latter two worked for the county at the time of the move.

The four opposed the move saying it was too costly for the county.

Two other defendants — Flora Cafaro, part-owner of the Cafaro Co. and sister of Anthony Cafaro, and attorney Martin Yavorcik — are charged with one count each of money laundering and not with conspiracy.

The judge in September granted a request by Cafaro attorneys to seal nonroutine documents in this case after bills of particulars for Flora Cafaro and Yavorcik were made public.

Court records released this week show the request came largely from a sentence in Flora Cafaro’s bill that led to the request to seal records.

That sentence is: “This is not the first time Anthony Cafaro or other members of the Enterprise has made clandestine payments and the state will seek to offer and introduce other acts as evidence.”

In a Nov. 30 filing, Cafaro attorneys requested the judge dismiss the case against the brother and sister, the Cafaro Co. and its two subsidiaries because “essential, vital facts [are] missing from the indictment, without which these defendants cannot begin to be fairly informed as to what they must be prepared to meet at trial.”

While they want the bills of particulars sealed, Cafaro attorneys complained in that Nov. 30 filing that the special prosecutors promised to produce them by mid-September and still haven’t done so.

Bills of particular for Zachariah, Reardon and Sciortino were filed and are under seal by the judge.

The bills for Anthony Cafaro, the three companies and McNally haven’t been filed yet.

The failure to produce those bills, Cafaro attorneys wrote in the Nov. 30 motion, “causes the defendant to question whether the state’s tactic is motivated by a desire to maintain a flexible, every-evolving theory of criminality with which to prosecute these defendants.”

In separate Nov. 30 and Dec. 2 filings, released Tuesday, attorneys for Sciortino and McNally, wrote that the government leaks information to the press that has “contributed widely to the news media feeding frenzy” in this case.

In the Nov. 30 document, Sciortino’s and McNally’s lawyers contend “the leak” started with a 2008 meeting between employees of The Vindicator and county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, Assistant Prosecutors Linette Stratford and Gina Bricker, and county Administrator George Tablack.

“As has been emphasized repeatedly, all of these actions were politically motivated,” they wrote in the filing.

The county officials provided public documents to the newspaper during that 2008 meeting.

“We met with county officials, including Paul Gains and George Tablack, over their Oakhill concerns just like we meet with hundreds of people a year over various news concerns,” said Todd Franko, editor of The Vindicator.

“In fact, we met with Commissioner John McNally days afterward as a result of the Gains meeting, and made it clear that the second meeting existed due to the first. There was nothing clandestine about the meeting as evidenced that we shared it with McNally and we referred to it in an April 1, 2008, editorial.”

That editorial, attached as an exhibit in the Nov. 30 filing by the attorneys for Sciortino and McNally, states Tablack, Gains and the two assistant prosecutors provided the newspaper with copies of depositions and trial testimony related to a civil case opposing the JFS relocation.

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