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Did special prosecutors go too far?

Published: Sun, September 19, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

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.


1davidjohn(144 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

how can a legitimate reporter write a column based upon an anonymous letter

and how do we know it was a grand jury member rather then tablack

we can assume ludt and traficanti cannot write

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?

wiithout sounding like bill clinton how do you define corrupt

is it illegal for individuals to donate large amounts of money to campaigns

and do people who donate to campaigns then have access because of their donations

isnt this common in local state and national politics

does a person become an ambassador because they are nice people or have given big money

how about a federal judge

how about a member of the ohio puco board

how about a ysu board of regents

and who negotiated and renewed the lease that paid all this money to the cafaros

and wasnt it a month to month lease at some point

why didnt the county get out of the bad lease

how long has gains been prosecutor

is it corruption or incompetence or what

and why oakhill and not a building downtown

dont the politicians always talk up downtown redevelopment

when a hospital and the renaissance group couldnt make a go of oakhill

shouldnt that have set off warning bells

and who is getting big construction contracts at oak hill because the spending never ends

and did the architecture firm at oak hill give donations to traficanti

it is not a simple question about financial wealth and influence

it is using a grand jury to settle political scores

and why does the newspaper never question the wisdom of buying a ghetto building

are the commissioners advertising bids in the newspaper rather then the internet

there are no good guys in this story

opponents of oak hill

proponents of oak hill

the vindicator

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2burford(95 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

I agree with David John. Doesn't it seems odd that a grand jury member who says that it pains them not to be able to say anything to anyone writes a letter to the newspaper even if done without their name?

Maybe deSouza wrote himself a letter. I agree Ludt and Traficanti couldn't put 2 sentences together.Maybe Tablack was the writer. Maybe Gains.Who really knows.

Oak Hill is bleeding the county. And now they are going to spend hundreds of thousands more to fix up space for the Board of Elections which has been shown to be nothing but bad news.

Bad government never ends in the valley.

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3Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

After a few interest free and no payback loans are passed out the Cafaro Enterprise will be vindicated !

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4ytownredux(117 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

While I appreciate that everyone is entitled to an opinion, and DavidJohn certainly deserves his, in most of his comments about Oak Hill he has been wrong, and I would really appreciate it if he would just stop until the facts come out. To think that a reporter would make up a letter from a juror is not impossible, but seriously misguided. The Grand Jury was on this case for 5 months and gave a lot of their time to hear all the evidence that prosecutors had to give. Remember that they only hear one side and only have to decide if it is enough to go to trial, but that was not necessarily the case for this presentation. The Special Prosecutors wanted to make sure this was not a waste of anyone's time and presented overwhelming amounts of evidence that was taken into consideration before indictments were given.

A definition of corrupt is pretty straightforward, and while you can offer lot's of 'grey' areas, in this case there was not so much. Why don't you take a little time and read all of the transcripts from the depositions on the OakHill Case. They should provide a lot of light if you just pay attention this time.

While I agree with you that the County was negligent in not getting out of Garland sooner, you are naive to think that they did not try to get back to downtown and are even more so if you don't think roadblocks were in the way. It has been a month to month lease for 10 years, there was plenty of time to move, however most of the building problems did not come until the final few years. By the way, OakHill is a building downtown, have you not travelled the 10 blocks? Do you really want a building the size of OakHill vacant and subject to looters and vandals?

There is so much complexity to this case, that it is frustrating that it wont be heard for 9 months, and like the Juror told Bertram, we would really like to see justice done and not just sweep this under the carpet. This has NOTHING to do with it being a good deal or not, but everything to do with powerful businessmen and political officials working together against the County at all odds to stop something that they wanted to stop for purely selfish reasons.

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5davidjohn(144 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

is it really naive to think they did not try to get back downtown

there is no space downtown

phar mor stambaugh huntington home savings

they could not build a small building downtown

east end west end front street commerce street

stop this laughable notion that oak hill is downtown

it is not

and is it the job of the taxpayers to rescue every abandoned building

especially a 90 year old building

does an average joe have access to all the transcripts in the lawsuit

when you put an albatross around the communitys neck for generations it is about a good deal or a bad deal

like the annex

like the jail

even if they acted for purely selfish reasons

so what

is that criminal

they should have done the right thing

leave garland years ago and not move to oak hill

bad decision

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6author50(1121 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

davidjohn is tough on the eyes, but makes a valid argument.

Once the mutiny on the county is settled and the bad guys go to jail, etc., another grand jury needs to be convined to look into why Oakhill was bought in the first place. I never could understand why Andy Suhar -- working for the bankruptcy Judge shoved this tax-payer money drainer down our throats. Anybody know who was on that hospital board? Anyone know who/what special interest groups are getting paid to repair Oakhill? Anyone know if Traficanti, Ludt, Gains and Tablack
are tied into those special interest groups?

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7Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

As soon as the Cafaros regain control heads will roll ! How dare they be treated in such a fashion !

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8ytownredux(117 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes, sorry, you are naive, if the Cafaro's are currently being charged with conspiring to stop the move to Oak Hill, do you think that is the only place they would conspire not to put it? Have the Cafaro's ever tried to stop the JFS from going downtown? Hmmmm, makes you think a bit if you let it and believe the pattern.

And yes, as a matter of fact, it is the taxpayers on the line for anything that JFS does, as that is what supports that agency, taxes! Again, you are confusing a bad decision to conspiracy to block a purchase. It could be the worst decision in the world, but a 2-3 vote wont stop it, and if it is done legally, it wont. There is no proof that it will be a bad move yet, just supposition, supposing is a lot like an assumption, and you know what they say about people who assume.

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9burford(95 comments)posted 4 years, 11 months ago

Apparently I am naïve as the other people who comment here are according to ytownredux.

I am not a fan of McNally and Sciortino and the Cafaros, But if this is a horrible decision to move to Oak Hill, and I think it is, I don’t have a problem with someone, anyone opposing the move to Oak Hill. Is that a crime?

I oppose Obamacare. If I call my congressman, and assume for the sake of argument it is not Tim Ryan, and I ask him not to fund Obamacare, to stop it from being implemented, and he agrees, are we guilty of a criminal conspiracy?

How long was the Garland lease? The lease must have been renewed over the years.And it was written here that the lease was month to month the last few years. Why didn’t the county move Jobs and Family downtown? Unless we assume the Cafaros owned all the commissioners over the last 25 years. Maybe they did. But as ytownredux said, “you know what they say about people who assume.”

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