If J.J. Cafaro dodges a prison sentence Tuesday for breaking the law, just as he did seven-and-a-half years ago, the message for anyone contemplating a life of crime would be this: It pays to have a Catholic priest divinely interceding on your behalf. However, it will cost you. Men of God don’t come cheap.
When U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen O’Malley looks through Cafaro’s case file during the sentencing of one of the Mahoning Valley’s most prominent and infamous citizens, she will see several letters from supporters urging leniency.
One that will undoubtedly grab her attention is written (in holy ink?) by Monsignor John DeMarinis, pastor of St. Anthony Church in Youngstown’s Brier Hill section. Father DeMarinis has been friends with J.J. and his wife, Janet, for many years and has benefitted greatly from the relationship.
“Over the years J.J. and Jan have been true patrons to their parish. In addition to supporting the church financially, J.J. has supported the other parishioners. Anytime a person was in trouble, time and time again, he was there to lend a hand,” the padre wrote.
But as she reads the letter on behalf of the multi-millionaire shopping center developer, Judge O’Malley would do well to consider the Biblical admonition in Luke 12:48: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”
J.J. Cafaro, by the grace of God and the love of his father, the late William Cafaro, has been given much, as has his brother, Anthony, and sister, Flora. William Cafaro built the Cafaro Co. into one of the leading shopping center development firms in the nation — and left it to his children.
Yet, J.J. has two criminal convictions stemming from his willingness to use his money to game the political system.
In March, he pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in 2004 when he funneled $10,000 into his daughter’s congressional campaign. Capri Cafaro, a Democratic state senator from Liberty Township and minority leader of the Senate, was not implicated in her father’s scheme.
J.J. Cafaro told federal prosecutors that he loaned $10,000 to a campaign staff member who then directed the money to his daughter’s campaign.
The transaction took place just two years after the millionaire pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to provide an unlawful gratuity (the charge can be found in the federal bribery statute) to former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.
He gave Traficant $13,000 in cash and other things of value in return for the then congressman’s help in securing a federal contract for a company he owned in Virginia.
For that egregious violation of the law, J.J. walked away with a sentence of 15 months’ probation and a fine of $150,000.
Then, as now, J.J. had priests interceding on his behalf. In 2002, a letter was written by the Rev. Thomas S. Acker, former president of Wheeling Jesuit University. Father Acker said he had known the Cafaro family for nearly 20 years and that J.J.’s drive to bring good jobs to the Valley led him to cross the line.
Now, Father DeMarinis is urging Judge O’Malley to be lenient because J.J. is a good man who has done many wondrous things. There’s a familiar ring to the padre’s expression of support.
Some years ago, the pastor of St. Anthony Church officiated at the funeral mass for Mafia boss Joseph “Little Joey” Naples, who was gunned down gangland-style in a hit sanctioned by mob bosses in New York City. Naples was a member of St. Anthony and it was clear from Father DeMarinis’ eulogy that the mobster, like Cafaro, was generous with his wealth.
From the pulpit, the priest talked in glowing terms of a man who loved his family and his church. There was no mention of the fact that Naples also had the blood of mob rivals on his hands and had contributed to the fraying of the moral fabric of the Mahoning Valley.
Likewise, the priest’s defense of J.J. Cafaro ignores the fact that his latest brush with the law came after he caught a huge break in the first case. By any standard, he should have been hauled off to prison, but because he was willing to testify against Traficant, he was treated kindly and gently.
On Tuesday Cafaro will again be seeking kindness and gentleness from the federal court. God willing?