Oakhill judge denies latest plea for secrecy

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Visiting Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge William H. Wolff Jr. from Kettering

By Peter H. Milliken



A visiting judge has denied a request by the Cafaro interests that he impose more secrecy in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy case.

Judge William H. Wolff Jr. overruled a motion by the Cafaro defendants to delete three statements in a motion by the special prosecutors for an extension of the prosecutors’ time for pre-trial delivery of all of their evidence to the defense.

“The court is not persuaded that refusal to allow the requested redaction will create publicity that has a substantial likelihood of prejudicing the defendants’ right to a fair trial,” Judge Wolff ruled.

The judge made that ruling and unsealed several documents Monday after lawyers for The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV objected to deletion of the statements.

“Defendants cannot unilaterally dictate the process for sealing portions of court records, nor can they control the message provided to the public and the press based on their unilateral determinations of the purpose, relevance or accuracy of statements,” Atty. Marion H. Little Jr. of Columbus argued on behalf of the newspaper and TV station.

Five people and three companies are charged with conspiracy and other charges in an alleged effort to impede the move of Mahoning County’s Department of Job and Family Services from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters to Oakhill Renaissance Place.

The county bought Oakhill in 2006 and moved JFS there a year later. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

The Cafaro lawyers objected to three statements the prosecutors made to explain why they need more time to deliver their evidence, saying the statements are inaccurate or irrelevant and might substantially prejudice the defendants’ right to a fair trial.

Specifically, the Cafaro lawyers objected to the prosecutors’ reference to documents revealing “FBI involvement in the case and possible other active investigations.”

They also objected to the prosecutors’ statement that: “There appear to be ongoing federal government investigations, which impact the State of Ohio’s case, and impede, from a timing perspective, its ability to comply” with Ohio’s pretrial evidence disclosure rules.

Attached to the Cafaro motion was a Dec. 23 Vindicator story that cited an Oct. 28 letter from supervisory FBI agents to Atty. George Stamboulidis of New York City, who represents Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co. Cafaro and the company bearing his name are among the Oakhill defendants.

The letter from agents C. Frank Figliuzzi and John E. Stoll of the Youngstown FBI office said the FBI has provided investigative assistance and delivered documents to the special prosecutors in the Oakhill case.

“To the extent that there are other ongoing 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,” the agents wrote.

In addition to objecting to references to federal probes, the Cafaro lawyers said the prosecutors’ statement that they have already provided more than 300 pages of edited FBI interview summaries to the defense is inaccurate.

In his Monday order, Judge Wolff granted the special prosecutors’ request for more time to present their evidence to the defense and did not impose a deadline for doing so.

However, he ordered the prosecutors to complete that process as soon as it is practical and to inform him and the defendants’ lawyers when that process is finished.

The judge allowed the special prosecutors to share the Oakhill bills of particulars, which remain sealed from public view, with the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is the federal prosecutor’s office.

The newspaper and TV station have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to bar Judge Wolff from keeping the bills of particulars, which detail the charges against the defendants, sealed from public view.

Those charged in the July 28, 2010, indictment with conspiracy and other charges are Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co.; the Cafaro Co., and two of its affiliates, the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and the Marion Plaza Inc; County Commissioner John A. McNally IV, county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon and former county JFS director John Zachariah.

Two other defendants are charged only with one count of money laundering and not with conspiracy. They are Flora Cafaro, part-owner of the Cafaro Co., and Atty. Martin Yavorcik.

The money laundering charge pertains to aconcealed $15,000 gift Flora Cafaro is accused of giving to Yavorcik’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign for county prosecutor.

The Oakhill criminal trial is set to begin June 6 in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

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