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Senator defends felon’s help with campaign effort

Published: Sat, November 6, 2010 @ 12:09 a.m.

By David Skolnick



A campaign volunteer for state Sen. Joe Schiavoni is a convicted felon once identified by the FBI as a mob associate.

Schiavoni said he is aware of Leo Connelly Jr.’s criminal past, but the campaign volunteer served his time in prison and deserves a second chance. A photo of the two in The Vindicator’s Wednesday election coverage drew phone calls from readers.

“He’s one of those guys who volunteers, and you can’t fire volunteers,” Schiavoni said. “He was in jail in the past and had some issues. He wanted to work the polls. He paid his debt to society.”

Connelly handed out literature at polling locations Tuesday for Schiavoni, of Canfield, D-33rd, elected to a four-year term in the state Senate.

Connelly served nearly six years in a Pennsylvania prison on a burglary conviction and was released in 1996.

An FBI affidavit from 1998 described him as an enforcer and bag man for mob bosses Joseph Naples and Lenny Strollo. In 1998, Connelly denied the allegations but said he was a friend of Strollo’s.

Strollo was indicted in 1997 on Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations violations of aggravated murder, casino-style gambling and numbers lottery. He was believed released in 2008.

Connelly also was arrested in 1979 in Miami on charges of bookmaking. He also was arrested in 1987 by Niles police when he and five other men were found in a truck with $45,415 worth of stolen furs. The disposition of that case isn’t clear.

Attempts by The Vindicator on Friday to contact Connelly by telephone were unsuccessful.

Connelly’s assistance in Schiavoni’s campaign came to light after The Vindicator published a picture in its Wednesday edition of Schiavoni with campaign staffers and volunteers, including Connelly, celebrating his victory. Nearly all of them, including Connelly, are wearing Schiavoni T-shirts in the photo. That photo drew some reader inquiries.

Schiavoni, an attorney, said Connelly was a worker’s compensation client of his father, who’s also an attorney. That’s how they first met, Schiavoni said.

“I didn’t know him in his past life,” Schiavoni said. “I found out he had a past. He wanted to help and do a good thing and be a regular member of society. I didn’t make a big stink out of it.”

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