While chasing down a whisper about a special federal grand jury in Cleveland investigating one — or more — of the defendants in the state of Ohio’s criminal-conspiracy case surrounding Mahoning County’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, this writer came across a letter that is intriguing and may well be prescient.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, so there’s no way to officially confirm the whisper. Only the issuance of an indictment would reveal who federal prosecutors are targeting and what charges are being pursued.
But the letter, written by FBI Special Agent in Charge C. Frank Figliuzzi and signed by John E. Stoli, supervisory senior resident agent of the FBI’s Youngstown office, contains information that could have some relevance.
It is addressed to George Stamboulidis, lawyer for Youngstown businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., one of the seven defendants in the state’s case that grew out of the purchase of Oakhill Renaissance, the former South Side Medical Center.
Here’s the key paragraph:
“To the extent that there are other on-going investigations relative to the conduct of your client, an invitation to discuss the resolution of those matters is sincerely extended to you and your client.”
Federal, state probes
The FBI’s letter was in response to an inquiry from Cafaro’s lawyer about various documents pertaining to the federal and state investigations triggered by Oakhill Renaissance.
In the state’s criminal case, the defendants are Cafaro Sr., former 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 sister of Anthony Cafaro; and Atty. Martin Yavorcik.
In addition to the Cafaro Co., two affiliates are also named as defendants: Ohio Valley Mall Co. and The Marion Plaza, Inc.
The defendants face trial for conspiring to block commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt from buying the former South Side Medical Center and from moving the Job and Family Services Agency from the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza.
The state trial was scheduled to begin June 6, but it has been delayed by visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
However, it’s not just the FBI letter to Cafaro Sr.’s lawyer that gives credence to the chatter about a special federal grand jury.
During a recent status hearing before Judge Wolff, one of the two special prosecutors, Atty. David P. Muhek, was discussing the state’s attempt to provide the defense lawyers with documents when he said:
“The overwhelming bulk of our discovery, we have come to learn over the last several months with the Department of Justice in December, in January and throughout this year that there are additional overlapping investigations that are occurring right now.”
A short while later, Muhek revealed that he and his colleague, Special Prosecutor Anthony C. Cillo, were told by the Justice Department that “there are a number of documents, there are a number of — thousands of hours of tapes.”
Judge Wolff asked the special prosecutor if all the information in the possession of the federal government had to do with the state’s case.
“No, it has to do with — it has to do with individuals who are witnesses, individuals who are perhaps defendants and other people,” Muhek replied.
Defense lawyers were not happy with the revelations by the special prosecutor.
“ ... for the first time we hear thousands of hours of tape recordings,” said Stamboulidis. “What year were these tape recordings made? Was it during the course of the period charged in the indictment, from ’04 to ’08?”
Another of Cafaro Sr.’s lawyers, Martin Weinberg, also expressed concern about how the information in the hands of the federal government would affect their case.
“For the first time today we were now told there are hours and hours of tape recordings, some of which are tape recordings of defendants,” he told Judge Wolff.
Here’s another whisper: A Mahoning County officeholder is supposedly talking to the FBI.