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An open letter to the feds

Published: Sun, May 22, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach

Northern District of Ohio


Dear Mr. U.S. Attorney:

It is now clear, with the criminal charge against former Mahoning County Treasurer Lisa Antonini, that the government-corruption floodgates are going to be opened. When that happens, other officeholders and public officials will be swept up in the gushing waters of the federal government’s investigation.

And once again, honest residents of Mahoning County, in particular, and the Mahoning Valley, in general, will have to live with the reality that political corruption is part of this region’s DNA.

Given that, it’s time for federal and state investigative agencies to develop a “No-Elect List” (similar to the No-Fly List) that would provide us with the names of those who are about to be indicted or who are “persons of interest.”

Why is this important? Because we don’t seem to have the ability to determine who’s honest and who isn’t when it comes to government.

Over the years, this writer has tried to get law-enforcement types to reveal the names of individuals who are on their radar screens, but to no avail.


Mr. U.S. Attorney, last year’s race for Mahoning County auditor is a prime example of what happens when information is kept under wraps. Auditor Michael Sciortino sought re-election, and before the primary there were credible reports that he, along with others, would be indicted in the so-called Oakhill Renaissance scandal.

No one in a position to know would confirm the information, so Sciortino won the Democratic Party nomination — and shortly thereafter was indicted.

But it was too late to affect the outcome of his re-election. The predominance of Democrats in the county means a primary victory is tantamount to a win in the general.

Thus, Sciortino, who has held office since 2005, is still auditor — despite the fact that he and six others have been charged with criminal conspiracy and are awaiting trial in state court.

If only the voters had been forewarned.

The refusal of law enforcement to either indict Sciortino before the primary or issue a warning about him has resulted in his clinging to the position.

The other six defendants are county Commissioner John A. McNally IV; former county Treasurer John Reardon; former Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah; Atty. Martin Yavorcik; Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co., and his sister, Flora, an officer in the company. Three Cafaro companies are also named as defendants.

Anthony Cafaro has been in the federal government’s cross hairs for some time. On April 24, the column in this space was headlined, “Is Cafaro Sr. a target of the feds?” The answer is yes. Indeed, a letter from the FBI to Cafaro’s lawyer, which was quoted in the column, shows that as far back as October he was being investigated for federal crimes.

With the departure of Antonini, who faces a federal criminal charge of taking money from a businessman — all signs point to Cafaro Sr. — and not declaring it, the Democratic Party precinct committeemen and women are preparing to fill the vacancy. They will meet on June 6, and while three people have declared their candidacies — John Yemma, deputy treasurer appointed by Antonini; Kenneth Carano, a long-time politico, and Roxanne DeNiro, a long time employee in the treasurer’s office — there may be others. The deadline for submitting letters of interest to party Chairman David Betras is May 31.

A “No-Elect List” would be timely and appropriate — given the cruddy political history of the Mahoning Valley.

An issuance of indictments in the next couple of weeks stemming from Antonini’s admission of wrongdoing would enable the Democratic Party insiders to determine if any of her potential successors should be red-flagged.

Mr. U.S. Attorney, Chairman Betras has stressed he does not intend to anoint anyone for the position of treasurer, nor is he going to dissuade anyone thinking of seeking the appointment. While that’s commendable, it does mean that there won’t be the kind of vetting of candidates that is obviously necessary.

So, here’s a proposal: Send this writer an e-mail (desouza@vindy.com) with the names of individuals on your radar screen, and if any are potential candidates for office, steps will be taken to erase them. Let us strike a blow for honest government.

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