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Legal troubles spiral for caregiver



Published: Sun, December 19, 2010 @ 12:10 a.m.

Despite no finding of guilt, restitution and fees top $67K

By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

David J. Venerose Jr. ran unsuccessfully for Youngstown City Council in 2003.

He ran a Boardman bar for less than a year after opening it in 2008.

Today, he’s simply running into one legal problem after another — with a Valley court and two businessmen seeking thousands of dollars from the unemployed man.

In two of the most-serious instances, Venerose maintains he did nothing wrong.

But some maintain otherwise in a twisting tale within Mahoning County political circles.

The tale includes a juvenile-court job he was fired from after a few months, a sheriff’s background check that failed to find a 2003 conviction, and mismanaged finances for a Struthers business and an elderly Boardman woman with dementia.

For the latter episode, Venerose, 40, of Sheridan Road, Youngstown, must reimburse $67,560 to the guardianship estate of 89-year-old Geraldine Burke in a settlement completed Dec. 3.

Venerose and his mother, Edith, were, according to court records, Burke’s primary caregivers for several years and had gained control of her assets in October 2008. Neighbors of Burke’s, concerned about her well-being, got county officials to investigate her care and the Veneroses’ actions. That eventually led to formal complaints of improper care and missing funds, although Visiting Probate Judge Denny Clunk dismissed Edith from the complaint.

“I didn’t take $67,000,” David Venerose said. “I don’t have the money to fight the situation.”

He emphasized there was no finding of guilt, which is what Judge Clunk wrote in the Dec. 3 probate-court filing.

There was “no finding of guilt,” said Mahoning County Probate Judge Mark A. Belinky, because there was a settlement agreement and no trial. Belinky intervened in the Burke case in February 2009 — just months after the Veneroses gained control of Burke’s assets.

“He agreed to pay back $67,000. You can conclude what you want from that,” Judge Belinky said of Venerose.

Mahoning County Sheriff Randall Wellington said his department’s investigation results have been turned over to Nicholas Modarelli, an assistant county prosecutor, for review.

No criminal charges have been filed.

Judge Clunk ordered Venerose to make $20,000 worth of initial lump-sum payments — $5,000 within 60 days and $5,000 annually thereafter, until the $20,000 level is achieved.

Also, beginning immediately, Venerose must make payments of $250 a month until the remaining $47,560 is paid.

Venerose’s restitution obligation continues if Burke dies, and he cannot avoid that obligation if he files for bankruptcy, Judge Clunk said.

The story of legal matters surrounding the Burke case involves a complicated series of events chronicled in sheriff’s reports, probate-court records and other documents. In September 2008, Steven Prest, 27, of Youngstown, a convicted burglar and purported caregiver for Burke, was arrested at Burke’s residence for a parole violation.

Venerose had let Prest and another man move in when Burke was in the hospital.

“Prest was trying to get his life together. We were simply trying to help this kid out, too, and giving him a place to stay in exchange for helping out around [Burke’s] house,” Venerose testified in a probate-court guardianship hearing.

Today, Prest is again wanted by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority for violating the conditions of his supervision. He is listed as a violator at large on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections’ website.

In October 2008, Burke gave the Veneroses authority to act on her behalf concerning her finances and health-care decisions if she became unable to act on her own. The documents were drafted by Atty. Scott D. Hunter.

Hunter is a part-time county-court judge in Canfield, and, at that time, he was the unsuccessful Republican challenger running against Judge Belinky. Venerose helped the Hunter campaign.

It was during this same period that Burke’s neighbors became concerned with Prest and the other man living there, the condition of the house and Burke’s well-being.

The sheriff’s department and the county’s Job and Family Services adult-protective-services division launched investigations that eventually supported a guardianship complaint filed in probate court with Judge Belinky.

Less than four months later, in February 2009, Judge Belinky eliminated the Veneroses’ control by ruling that Burke was “unable to make health care, financial and personal decisions for herself.” He appointed Children and Family Services as her emergency guardian and froze her bank accounts. He also ordered her bank records since January 2008 turned over to his court for review.

The CFS guardian application said Burke was incompetent due to dementia, and with it was a statement of expert evaluation from which Judge Belinky determined that Burke “has a history of confusion and physical limitations.”

Hunter said that when Burke signed the papers giving the Veneroses control, he believed she was of sound mind.

“She was lucid. She indicated she understood” his explanation of the documents before she signed them, Hunter said.

In March 2009, Judge Belinky ordered the nursing home where Burke had been moved to not permit the Veneroses or Prest to have any contact or communication with her.

In February 2010, CFS filed a complaint against the Veneroses in probate court, alleging they concealed or conveyed away at least $50,000 worth of Burke’s assets and demanding restitution to the Burke estate.

The case was turned over to Judge Clunk after Judge Belinky removed himself due to concerns expressed by Venerose over the judge’s ability to be impartial. Venerose campaigned for Hunter against Judge Belinky in 2008.

Venerose said the entire case against him regarding Burke has been politically charged.

“I got caught up in the political thing between Hunter and Belinky,” Venerose said.

“I don’t really have a response to that,” Hunter said. “Judge Belinky and I ran a very friendly, professional campaign, and he won.”

Hunter said he met the Veneroses early in 2008 and had no history of doing legal work for them. The Veneroses, who put up yard signs and distributed literature for Hunter at polling places on Election Day, were among dozens of volunteers working on his campaign, Hunter said.

“That’s preposterous,” Judge Belinky said of Venerose’s comment about politics.

“The bottom line is: These questionable activities, which resulted in a $67,000 judgment against Mr. Venerose, came to light in the probate court in 2009, after the election had already passed, and we uncovered what appeared to be some misappropriation of funds through her checking-account documents,” contracts and online purchases, Judge Belinky said.

By coincidence, Venerose had status with the sheriff’s department as an unpaid civil deputy sheriff.

The sheriff said he terminated that when he became aware of his department’s investigation. Civil deputies have an honorary commission with no arrest powers.

In the same fall 2008 period that all this occurred, Venerose opened a Boardman bar. It closed less than a year later — in August.

“There’s a rumor I took her money and opened up a bar. That’s not true,” Venerose said. “My mom and I cared for this lady. We loved this lady as family.”

Ohio Division of Liquor Control records show Venerose signed a $2,000-a-month lease for the Iron Shamrock bar on Market Street in Boardman, renting the premises from Sat Adlaka, who held the liquor license.

“I couldn’t afford to keep the place going, so I ended up losing the bar,” Venerose said.

“He defaulted on the lease,” Adlaka said of Venerose. “He abandoned the place” in August 2009.

The bar was closed for about four months after Venerose left, Adlaka recalled. A new partnership group with Adlaka operates the establishment as the Quench Bar and Grill.

Venerose still owes Adlaka $20,000 in unpaid rent and $15,000 for a renovation loan for the bar.

Adlaka said he filed a report with the Boardman Police Department concerning bounced rent checks, but no criminal charges have been filed in this matter.

Venerose’s legal troubles extend beyond the Burke case and the bar ownership.

On Nov. 16, he was sued civilly for more than $25,000 by Brian Fannon of Boardman. In the suit, Fannon described himself as the sole member and agent of the former Independent Mobility LLC, a Struthers company that sold medical equipment and wheelchairs. Venerose assisted Fannon with the company’s sales and billing.

In his lawsuit, Fannon alleges Venerose took checks from insurance companies that were payable to Independent Mobility and cashed them or deposited them into his personal account.

Venerose had no authority to do either, the complaint says.

Venerose said he has not seen a copy of the lawsuit filed in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. Characterizing Fannon and his family as his friends, Venerose said the checks were given to him as a form of payment, and he claimed them on his tax forms.

Also this year, Venerose was fired from his job with Juvenile Court Judge Theresa Dellick after just four months. It was a peculiar application process in several ways.

County records show Venerose was hired June 28 as a corrections officer at the county’s Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center.

Judge Dellick said she fired Venerose on Nov. 1, immediately after she learned details of the complaint filed against him in probate court.

Venerose had said in his job application that he was involved in a pending case in probate court, but he told juvenile-court officials including the judge that it wasn’t significant, Judge Dellick said.

When she learned otherwise, Judge Dellick said she was “very upset.”

Venerose’s court-job application lists county Commissioner Anthony T. Traficanti and Judge Dellick as references.

The job application asks for previous criminal convictions, but Venerose omitted 1992 and 2003 incidents.

Venerose said he “totally forgot” about those when he applied.

Though he failed to list them, the county criminal-conviction background check failed to even find them, the judge said.

“We have all these safeguards, and he went past all these safeguards,” Judge Dellick said. “I made a mistake. I’m sorry I did.”

Venerose said his 1992 crime of illegal voting was expunged. Wellington, whose department does court criminal background checks, is unsure why the 2003 resisting-arrest incident was not found.

Venerose’s personnel file at the juvenile court shows several write-ups from supervisors for rule infractions, including failure to carry his radio, neglect of duty and allowing juvenile detainees to misbehave.

Saying she fired him for just cause, Judge Dellick said she is contesting Venerose’s claim for unemployment compensation.

Additionally, on his job application, Venerose said he was marketing director for the Cafaro Co., where he said he was employed from November 1999 to February 2003 and oversaw and managed a $21 million mall-development budget.

He listed his immediate supervisor as Phyllis Cafaro, the company’s vice president of marketing and wife of Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former company president.

Joe Bell, the company’s director of corporate communications, said Venerose actually worked for the company in a minimum-wage assistant’s job between September 1999 and January 2000.

“It was not a minimum-wage job,” Venerose said, adding that Phyllis Cafaro hired and immediately supervised him. “I was there a lot longer than four months.”

VENEROSE CHRONOLOGY

Graduates from Struthers High School, 1988.

Put on two years’ probation in October 1992 after pleading guilty to illegal voting in the previous year.

Graduates from Youngstown State University in June 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications.

He and a Youngstown priest have a Dec. 31, 1999, audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

Files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June 2001 while living in a Lowellville apartment and listing his occupation as a customer-service representative with Boardman Medical Supply. Liabilities: $171,106. Assets: $3,054.

As the Republican candidate for Youngstown 7th Ward city councilman, he loses to Democrat Mark S. Memmer by a 2-1 margin in November 2003.

Fined $50 and given a 30-day suspended jail sentence and put on a year’s probation on Dec. 31, 2003, after pleading no contest to criminal trespass and resisting arrest in June 2003 in Warren.

Is named along with his mother, Edith Venerose, in documents signed by Geraldine Burke, 88, of Boardman on Oct. 23, 2008, that give the Veneroses authority to handle Burke’s finances and health-care decisions if Burke becomes unable to do so.

Probate Judge Mark A. Belinky voids the above documents Feb. 10, 2009, freezes Burke’s bank accounts and orders Burke’s bank records since Jan. 1, 2008, delivered to the court for review.

Burke’s court-appointed emergency guardian, Children and Family Services Inc., files a concealment of assets complaint Feb. 19, 2010, against the Veneroses demanding at least $50,000 in restitution to the Burke estate.

Venerose is hired June 28, 2010, as a corrections officer at the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center and fired Nov. 1, 2010, after Judge Theresa Dellick learns details of the probate- court concealment complaint.

Visiting Probate Judge Denny Clunk orders David Venerose to pay $67,560 in legal fees and restitution to the Burke estate in installments over 16 years and dismisses Edith Venerose from the complaint.

Source: Vindicator files and court records


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