Did special prosecutors go too far?

There are certain letters that ring true, even though they are unsigned. This one arrived in the mail the week of Sept. 5 in reaction to the column, “Oakhill is not on trial”:

“Dear Mr. de Souza:

“Thank you for Sunday’s column in The Vindicator. As a member of the Oakhill Grand Jury, it pains me not to be able to say anything to anyone. I just wanted you to know we did not indict a ham sandwich and that you are exactly right in your analysis. Please keep hitting this hard. I am so afraid that what we did will end up going no where and get lost in ‘politics as usual’ in the Mahoning Valley. We were ordinary people appalled at what undue influence cost the citizens of Mahoning County. Please keep up the good work.


“A juror”

The letter was prescient, because the very week it was received, visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. issued a ruling that should have alarmed Mahoning Valley residents, including the juror, who are tired of government corruption.

The players

Judge Wolff’s ruling had the effect of hiding from public view all filings in the the state of Ohio’s criminal case against seven individuals and three companies. The seven are Anthony M. Cafaro, Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co.; Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John Reardon; former Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah; Flora Cafaro, an officer of the Cafaro Co; and, Atty. Martin Yavorcik.

Three companies were also named in the grand jury indictment: The Cafaro Co., Ohio Valley Mall Co., and The Marion Plaza, Inc.

As the Sept. 5 column pointed out, the criminal case against the defendants centers on one issue: political corruption. It is not about the decision by two county commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, to buy the former South Side Medical Center and move the JFS agency into it. For almost 20 years, the agency had been located in the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza, with county government spending at least $1.2 million for rent and other expenses.

The column, which detailed the charges against the Valley Seven, also made note of the fact that in a document released publicly pertaining to Flora Cafaro and Atty. Yarorcik, there was this sentence:

“This is not the first time Anthony Cafaro or other members of the Enterprise [have] made clandestine payments and the State will seek to offer and introduce other acts evidence.” (Other acts evidence is a legal concept.)

The document pertaining to Flora Cafaro and Yavorcik — it’s called a Bill of Particulars — detailed a $15,000 transaction that the state says violated criminal statutes.

The state’s case is being presented by special prosecutors Dennis P. Will, Paul Nick, David Muhek and Anthony Cillo.

Lawyers react

It didn’t take long for the gaggle of defense lawyers to seek to bury any of the documents pertaining to this case.

Last week, Judge Wolff softened his “seal” position by saying that he would hold hearings in an effort to determine which documents, if any, should be made public and what information should be released.

The judge’s change of heart came on the heels of a Vindicator editorial that argued against any hiding from the public information pertaining to this case.

The key question in this case is rather straightforward: Did the Cafaro brother and sister use their financial wealth and influence to corrupt the current and former government officials?

All the defendants have denied the charges and have hired high-powered lawyers to defend them.

Did the special prosecutors show their hand by including the paragraph about Anthony Cafaro in the bill of particulars dealing with the charges against his sister and Yavorcik?

The defendants obviously think so, or they wouldn’t have asked for the judicial seal.

Indeed, there are reports that some of the lawyers wanted the judge to issue a gag order that would prevent anyone involved with this case from talking about it.

Fortunately, the gag wasn’t issued.

You can just image the public’s reaction to Auditor Sciortino, who is running for re-election this year, refusing comment because of the judicial veil.

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