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Feds must clean up ‘cesspool’

Published: Sun, December 9, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

“The Youngstown area exemplifies the truism that rackets cannot survive without two basic conditions — the sanction of police and politicians, and an apathetic public. ... Buffoons and incompetents succeed to important civic posts. Officials hobnob openly with criminals.”

— John Kobler, Saturday Evening Post contributing editor, in a seminal article about the Mahoning Valley, “Crime Town USA,” in the March 9, 1963, edition of the magazine.

“To the people of Youngstown, Ohio:

“The time now has come for action on the part of the whole citizenry. Until each honest man is aroused, the cesspool will remain. And Youngstown will remain a shame to the nation.”

— An editorial in the March 9, 1963, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

Although the gangland slaying of mobster Charles “Cadillac Charlie” Cavallaro and his son, Tommy, in November 1962 turned the national spotlight on the Mahoning Valley, the cesspool of corruption that the Saturday Evening Post alluded to was never cleaned up. The Mafia, until recently, continued to operate at will, while venal public officials considered bribery the foundation of governance in the region.

Mob boss Lenine Strollo, who unflinchingly testified under oath that murder was the Mafia’s business and that he ordered the hit on mob rival Ernie Biondillo, spent about 12 years in federal prison. Strollo was allowed to keep his ill-gotten gains, including the blood money, in return for providing the feds with information about the Mafia around the country.

The ex-mob boss is now retired in suburban comfort.

Strollo was one of 70 individuals, including officeholders, nabbed in the federal government’s crackdown a decade ago on government corruption and organized crime.

Ex-Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. spent eight years in the federal pen.

And yet, we wait — for the U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland to tell us what, if anything, will be done with the latest chapter in the history of public corruption in the Valley. This one involves Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former South Side Medical Center.

It is owned by the county, but when two of the three commissioners wanted to move the Job and Family Services agency from the McGuffey Mall, owned by the Cafaro Co., to Oakhill, all political hell broke loose.


The feds are sitting on 2,000 hours of wiretaps and other audio and visual surveillance of individuals in and out of county government. One of the targets of the surveillance is said to be Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co.

State criminal charges were brought against Cafaro, county Commissioner John A. McNally IV, county Auditor Michael Sciortino, former Treasurer John Reardon and former director of JFS, John Zachariah.

Special prosecutors dropped the charges against Cafaro and the others after the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office refused to share the information gleaned from the surveillance. The state can re-file the charges.

But, the feds have an ace in the hole — which they must play because the good people of this region deserve no less. We aren’t the apathetic boobs described by the Saturday Evening Post.

Former Mahoning County Treasurer Lisa Antonini, who also served as chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in federal court of taking money from a prominent businessman and not declaring it.

The federal government has not made the identity of businessman public, but a bill of particulars filed by state prosecutors when they were handling the Oakhill Renaissance case identified Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. as the person who gave Antonini money. Prosecutors allege a quid pro quo: In return for a $200 campaign contribution check and $3,000 in cash, Antonini agreed to support Atty. Martin Yavorcik’s challenge of county Prosecutor Paul Gains, a Democrat. Yavorcik ran as an independent; he received a boatload of campaign contributions from Anthony Sr., his brother, John J., and their sister, Flora.

Antonini will receive a reduced sentence from federal Judge Sara Lioi if she cooperates fully with federal, state or local investigations and prosecutions.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Cleveland risks being accused of a cover-up if it doesn’t move this case along — sooner, rather than later.

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