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Judge Lioi speaks for most of us

Published: Sun, August 5, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi’s eloquent reprimand last week of former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, whom she sentenced to 28 years in prison, reflected her familiarity with government corruption cases — thanks to several that originated in the Mahoning Valley.

The judge has had such political luminaries (a gentle way of saying reprobates) as former Mahoning County Treasurer Lisa Antonini, former Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris and ex-Judge Maureen Cronin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court appear before her.

With Cronin and Tsagaris, Lioi issued searing commentaries about their betrayal of the public trust. Antonini’s sentencing will come after federal prosecutors report to the judge that the former chairwoman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party has fully cooperated in other government corruption investigations.

Warning signs

But based on what Lioi said last week before she sentenced Dimora, the former chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, and what she had previously said to Cronin and Tsagaris, Antonini will undoubtably suffer her wrath — even if she receives a lesser sentence.

Let there be no misunderstanding, the verbal lashing these and other corrupt public officials receive is fully justified.

Dimora, undoubtedly the most powerful officeholder in Cuyahoga County when he was riding high, was convicted in March on racketeering and 32 other bribery- and corruption-related crimes.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the judge summarized the charges against Dimora as bribery, extortion, obstruction of justice and racketeering.

Lioi was unmoved by the defendant’s tears and the tears of his daughter, and offered this observation about the former county commissioner:

“The reach of his corruption was far and wide. The destruction left in its wake is incalculable.”

The judge said Dimora’s conduct was part of daily workings in Cuyahoga County, a pervasive pattern of corruption, the Plain Dealer reported.

“In the world of Cuyahoga County corruption, they had somewhat of a symbiotic relationship,” Lioi said.

She noted that while Dimora did good things as mayor of Bedford Heights, his behavior became less about helping others and more about helping Jimmy Dimora.

“Somewhere along the way he began using his power and authority for his own benefit,” the judge said. His conduct caused the citizens of the county to lose faith in their public officials and in their government.

If that admonition has a familiar ring, it’s because the federal judge used similar language when she sentenced former common pleas Judge Cronin in March 2010.

Lioi said that the personal problems Cronin faced “may provide an explanation but not an excuse.” In sending the defendant to prison for 27 months, the judge noted that “the serious and egregious nature of the offense” justified the high end of sentence.

Cronin pleaded guilty to two felony charges of honest-services mail fraud. She also was fined $4,000 and has been on probation since her release in March.

Lioi said the former Youngstown city prosecutor “committed a grave breach of trust” and “betrayed the public she served.”


With Tsagaris, the federal judge’s anger was evident in the language she used in sending him to prison for nine months.

In December 2009, the former commissioner appeared in federal court for violating the terms of the 12 months house arrest he was sentenced to in August 2009.

Tsagaris had pleaded guilty to two counts of honest-services mail fraud for receiving $36,551 from an unnamed local businessman who did business with the Trumbull County commissioners while Tsagaris was a commissioner.

“Your conduct seems to flaunt and disregard the punishment that was imposed,” Judge Lioi told Tsagaris. “You were given the opportunity to stay in your community ... and you flaunted yourself in showing complete and utter disregard for the conditions the court set for you.”

We can only hope Lioi is assigned other such cases that will be coming out of the Mahoning Valley.

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