DE SOUZA ANALYSIS: Oakhillgate reinforces Valley’s image of corruption

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The Vindicator columnist Bertram de Souza


Oakhill Renaissance Place

Oakhill Indictment

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It was just about a year ago when thoughtful residents of the Mahoning Valley watched in dismay as the region’s political pariah, James A. Traficant Jr., returned home from federal prison to a hero’s welcome.

The red-carpet treatment he received attracted the attention of state, national and international reporters who all seemed to embrace the same story line: The Valley, with its history of organized crime and government corruption, doesn’t know the meaning of shame.

Indeed, Traficant, who had gone away for seven-plus years after being convicted of racketeering, bribery, tax evasion and seven other federal criminal charges stemming from his tenure as congressman, kept the story of his return alive. He went on national television to announce that he would run for Congress again. Fortunately, the incompetence of his disciples has prevented him from getting on the fall ballot.

But the sigh of relief from residents eager to shed the past and begin a new chapter on the political history of the Valley has now been replaced by a feeling of despair — prompted Thursday by the indictments of seven individuals, including two current officeholders and two former public officials in Mahoning County.

The charges against Commissioner John A. McNally IV, Auditor Michael Sciortino, ex-Treasurer John Reardon, who recently resigned from a state job, and John Zachariah, former director of the Job and Family Services agency, are the cause of our heartburn. The charges against business leaders Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. and his sister, Flora, and Atty. Martin Yavorcik make us angry.

To be sure, an indictment isn’t a sign of guilt, but reading the 73 counts leaves no doubt about the seriousness of the case. Those who dismissed the two-year investigation by the Ohio Ethics Commission as a fishing expedition have been proved wrong. The Ohio Ethics Commission’s probe followed the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, formerly South Side Medical Center, and the relocation of the JFS agency from the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza. Two special prosecutors presented the findings to a special grand jury.

And the area’s corrupt underbelly is again exposed.

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