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Feds aren’t folding up their tent

Published: Sun, July 10, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

There are two possible explanations for the refusal by the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland to share surveillance information with the special prosecutors in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy case:

The first, that the feds failed come up with anything significant in the 2,000 hours of wiretaps and other audio and visual surveillance of Mahoning County government officials and others.

If you buy that explanation, you’re obviously someone who believes in the tooth fairy and the goodness of man.

The second explanation is that the federal government’s investigation of government corruption in the county has reached a point where FBI agents and U.S. attorneys don’t want to give the targets a preview of the evidence against them.

On April 24, the existence of the surveillance tapes was made public in this space. The column was headlined, “Is Cafaro a target of the feds?” The Cafaro in question is Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co. and a defendant in the Oakhill Renaissance Place case.

On Monday, when the special prosecutors ask Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to dismiss the 74 charges against Cafaro and six other defendants, it will be because the justice department refused to hand over copies of the tapes or transcripts. The demand for the information had been made by the lawyers for the defendants after the existence of the federal government’s investigation was revealed during a court hearing last month.

‘Overlapping investigations’

“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,” Atty. David P. Muhek, one of the special prosecutors, told the court.

A short time 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 if all the information in the possession of the federal government had to do with the state’s Oakhill Renaissance 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 quick to express their displeasure at the bombshell being dropped during a status hearing on the state’s case.

It came as no surprise that the defendants, including two current county officeholders, Commissioner John A. McNally IV and Auditor Michael Sciortino, and two former officials, John Reardon, who was treasurer, and John Zachariah, who served as director of the Job and Family Services agency, wanted to see what the feds had.

But it also isn’t surprising that the FBI and the Justice Department are unwilling to share their information.

Why? Because one of the defendants, Cafaro Sr., already has been identified as a target of the federal investigation.

In the April 24 column, this writer made public a 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, to George Stamboulidis, one of Cafaro Sr.’s lawyers. The key paragraph in the letter was this:

“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.”

Guilty plea

Former county Treasurer Lisa Antonini has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of taking money from a businessman and not declaring it. All signs point to Cafaro Sr. as the businessman who gave her $3,000 in cash and a $200 check for her campaign.

Antonini’s plea agreement requires her to cooperate with the federal government in its ongoing investigation of government corruption.

While the refusal of the Justice Department to hand over the tapes or transcripts means that the state’s case will end on Monday, the feds are not going away. They have a vested interest in cleaning up politics in the Mahoning Valley and it is unimaginable that the only person caught in their dragnet is Lisa Antonini.

The feds aren’t folding up their tent.

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