A Mahoning County Area Court employee accused of hiding his own drunken-driving ticket from the court entered a written plea of innocent to obstructing official business.
Benito Velazquez Jr., 38, of Youngstown, is a deputy clerk at court here. Velazquez’s attorney Gerald Ingram entered the plea Thursday night for his client. Velazquez will return to court at 1 p.m. May 11 for a pretrial hearing.
Velazquez received a ticket March 5 for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol from the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
It was his second OVI offense, confirmed Lt. Christopher Heverly of the patrol.
According to a Boardman police report from March 14, the court administrator asked a deputy clerk if she was aware of another deputy clerk’s second OVI offense.
The clerk said no, proceeded to call the highway patrol, who confirmed that a trooper handed all traffic tickets to Velazquez, and retrieved the ticket from the patrol’s Canfield Post, according to reports.
“It appears there was an offense committed, and it will be prosecuted,” said Martin Hume, an assistant county prosecutor.
Clerk of Courts Anthony Vivo confirmed Velazquez has been on paid leave since March 14, and the disciplinary process will begin today, after Velazquez was formally charged Thursday.
“We will notify the employee and the union president with the exact charges” within 10 working days from the charges, Vivo said. “Then it just follows the procedure. There will be a [disciplinary] hearing, and then we’ll present all the facts.”
When asked if Velazquez could be fired for the obstructing official business charge, Vivo said, “All I will say is, this is a serious charge.
“I’m very concerned because the public trust, in my opinion, is the sacred part of being a public employee,” he added. “This is a very serious situation.”
Velazquez is a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3956. He draws a $28,000 annual salary and a $14,500 annual benefit package, Vivo said.