PUBLIC OFFICIALS RECEIVED FREE SERVICES, FILING SAYS
By Peter H. Milliken
The Cafaro interests provided free legal services to Mahoning County officials to manufacture opposition to the purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, special prosecutors alleged.
Those interests did this while they collected “fat rent checks for an aging, decrepit building,” the special prosecutors added in a recently unsealed filing in the now-dismissed Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case.
The allegations are contained in the prosecutors’ response to the Cafaro defendants’ motion to dismiss the case.
Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. dismissed the entire 73-count indictment on July 11 at the request of the prosecutors, who said the FBI’s refusal to provide tape recordings made it impossible for them to proceed.
The Mahoning County Common Pleas Court case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled.
Five people and three companies were charged with conspiring to impede the move of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters at Garland Plaza on the city’s East Side to Oakhill.
The county bought Oakhill in 2006 and moved JFS there in July 2007.
During the first seven months of 2007, the county paid $37,464 in monthly rent for JFS’ 71,903-square-foot quarters in the 1960-vintage Garland Plaza.
Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center, which was built in stages between 1910 and 1972.
“The only reason someone might call it decrepit is because the county failed in its obligation to maintain the building as it agreed to do in its lease,” Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co., said of Garland.
“That’s the reason the county agreed to pay our company” $913,590 to settle a breach of lease suit pertaining to Garland, Bell said. JFS had been at Garland for 19 years.
Charged in the indictment were Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.; the Cafaro Co. and two of its affiliates; county Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon and former county JFS Director John Zachariah.
The conspiracy charges in the indictment all alleged the provision of, or the receipt of, free legal services, or complicity thereto.
“The facts in this case illustrate the dangers inherent in a lack of transparency in government,” the special prosecutors opined in the unsealed document.
“I’m really not going to comment on the overheated ravings of the prosecution,” Bell said, declining to comment on issues other than the characteristics of Garland Plaza and the JFS lease.
“It’s awfully easy for the prosecutor to write this stuff down and make these insidious allegations. It’s another thing to have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Reardon’s lawyer, Lou DeFabio. “They dismissed the cases without having to put any evidence on” in a trial, DeFabio added.
The other Oakhill defendants who were charged with conspiracy and their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
McNally, Sciortino, Reardon and Anthony Cafaro publicly opposed the county’s Oakhill purchase because of what they said were uncertain costs of buying, operating and maintaining the former hospital.
The alleged behavior of those charged with conspiracy was “even more insidious than placing a bag of money on the table in exchange for a vote because the cloud of secrecy and duplicity gave a false air of legitimacy to the ruse,” the prosecutors wrote.
“The Cafaro defendants and their public official minions orchestrated the scheme, then sought to hide the Cafaro involvement as the county rent checks kept rolling in to the Cafaro enterprise while the civil litigation to block relocation to Oakhill dragged on,” the prosecutors wrote.
The Cafaro interests failed in 2007 in their lawsuit that sought to rescind the county’s purchase of Oakhill, and Sciortino immediately complied with the judge’s order to release the county’s $75,000 Oakhill purchase check, which Sciortino had withheld.
In another document unsealed last week, Sciortino’s lawyer, John B. Juhasz, called Oakhill “a $75,000 acquisition that has now cost over $15 million, a pricetag that even this defendant did not foresee.” Juhasz was referring to Oakhill expenses, including maintenance and renovation costs since the county acquired that 353,000-square-foot complex.
“The Cafaro defendants even went so far as to arrange six-figure contributions” to Atty. Martin Yavorcik’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign against county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains, “ostensibly to avoid any further outside scrutiny of their actions,” the prosecutors wrote.
Official campaign contribution records show gifts of $40,000 each from Anthony Cafaro Sr., his brother, John J. Cafaro, and his sister, Flora Cafaro, to the Yavorcik campaign.
John J. Cafaro was not charged with any crime in the Oakhill case.
Yavorcik and Flora Cafaro were charged only with one count pertaining to an allegedly concealed $15,000 gift she gave to his campaign. That charge was also dropped by prosecutors.
In 2008, Mahoning County’s common pleas judges appointed the Oakhill special prosecutors at the request of Gains, who had defended the county against the Cafaro suit to rescind the Oakhill purchase.
J. Gerald Ingram, a lawyer for Yavorcik, declined to comment on the prosecutors’ statements about Yavorcik’s campaign.