A perversion of a system meant to promote good

The extent to which one very wealthy individual is able to manipulate and control local government officials is laid out in great detail in a court document related to the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal.

Honest, law-abiding residents of Mahoning County should be livid at such an abuse of democracy — through the misuse of political power.

Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Youngstown-based Cafaro Co., one of the nation’s leading developers of shopping centers, is cast in the role of puppet master in the court document. The puppets are Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally IV; county Auditor Michael Sciortino; former county Treasurer John B. Reardon; John Zachariah, former county Job and Family Services director; and Lisa Antonini, former county treasurer and Democratic Party chairwoman.

What comes through loud and clear in the bill of particulars filed by state prosecutors in the criminal case against Cafaro and others is the blatant corruption of government.

Democracy is about “We the people,” not “I, the king.” When those we elect to public office sacrifice the common good for the good of one, our system of representative government is perverted.

That’s what the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal is about: the perversion of a system that’s meant to promote the public good.

Political corruption is endemic in the Mahoning Valley because there are individuals like Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. who are willing to use their wealth, power and fame to game the system, and there are government officials willing to be bought.

In one of the bills of particulars filed by state prosecutors to support the criminal case against Cafaro and others, the defendants were accused of attempting to undermine the conduct of official business by blocking the county’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

Commissioner Anthony Traficanti and ex- Commissioner David Ludt were in support of the purchase, but McNally, along with Sciortino and Reardon, were opposed to it.

Why? Because with the purchase, Traficanti and Ludt planned to relocate the Job and Family Services offices from the Cafaro-owned McGuffey Mall, also known as Garland Plaza, on Youngstown’s East Side.

The bills of particulars show just how far Cafaro and his cohorts were willing to go to block the Oakhill purchase and the JFS relocation.

The court documents reveal the legal fees for McNally and his colleagues in their court battles against the county were paid for by the Cafaro Co.

Two law firms received a whopping $1.35 million from the company during the battle of Oakhill. The tab includes what state prosecutors characterized as bribes for McNally and the other county officials.

Although the criminal charges were dropped because the state was unable to persuade the federal government to hand over relevant surveillance information, the documents released this week make it clear that, at the very least, the public trust in government has been violated.

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