Lies, bribes, misconduct all alleged in Oakhill documents

Oakhill - McNally Excerpts

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Excerpts for Bill of Particulars for John A. McNally IV

Oakhill - Cafaro Excerpts

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Excerpts for Bill of Particulars for Anthony Cafaro

Oakhill - Sciortino Excerpts

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Excerpts for Bill of Particulars for Michael Sciortino

Oakhill - Zachariah Excerpts

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Excerpts for Bill of Particulars for John Zachariah

By Peter H. Milliken


Current and former Mahoning County officials conspired with and improperly accepted free legal services from the Cafaro Co. business interests as bribes, then lied under oath as to the extent of their contacts with the Cafaro interests, according to court documents.

The allegations against county Commissioner John A. McNally IV, Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, former Treasurer John B. Reardon, and John Zachariah, former Job and Family Services director, are contained in bills of particulars unsealed Thursday in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal-conspiracy case.

The charges were never proven in trial, however, as special prosecutors dismissed the case a year ago.

The bills, detailing the criminal charges, were ordered unsealed Wednesday after a unanimous Ohio Supreme Court decision. The Vindicator and 21 WFMJ-TV sought to make them public.

McNally, Sciortino, and Reardon were charged with conflict of interest because they “accepted a substantial thing of value, being free legal services and/or fees from another person” doing business with the county, “which would manifest a substantial and improper influence upon the public official” concerning official duties, prosecutors said.

Sciortino and Reardon were also charged with filing false statements because they knowingly failed to report to the state the source and value of the gift of free legal services as required by law, prosecutors said.

A 79-page combined bill outlines the charges against Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.; the Cafaro Co., of which he is the former president; Cafaro Co. subsidiaries, the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and The Marion Plaza Inc.; and McNally. Separate, much shorter individual bills were written by the prosecutors concerning Sciortino, Reardon and Zachariah.

In a 73-count indictment from the county grand jury, the defendants were charged with conspiracy and many other offenses in their alleged effort to impede JFS’ move from Cafaro Co.-owned rented quarters at Garland Plaza on the city’s East Side to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.

JFS moved in July 2007 to Oakhill, which the county had bought a year earlier in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Oakhill is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.

The prosecutors dismissed the entire Oakhill criminal case a year ago because they were unable to obtain tapes from the FBI, which they would have had to share with defense lawyers in the pretrial evidence exchange, known as discovery.

Cafaro Sr., McNally, Sciortino, Reardon and Zachariah were all charged with lying in sworn pretrial depositions they gave in April, May and June 2007 in Ohio Valley Mall Co.’s unsuccessful civil taxpayer lawsuit to rescind the Oakhill purchase.

In his deposition, Sciortino, who was named as a defendant in that suit, swore that he never had any conversations with any representative of OVM regarding the filing of that suit.

The prosecutors, however, said Sciortino conferred with Isaac Eddington, a Cafaro lawyer, concerning the Oakhill purchase on July 21, 2006.

Sciortino received a letter from a Cafaro lawyer, dated Dec. 22, 2006, in which that lawyer provided information he wanted Sciortino to consider before signing bonds in connection with county borrowing.

Reardon swore in his June 2007 deposition that he didn’t think he knew any lawyers from the Squire, Sanders & Dempsey law firm that worked for OVM and that he reached the conclusion that the county was in default on five notes based only on discussions with the treasurer’s office staff.

The prosecutors said, however, Reardon conferred by telephone with lawyers from that firm on Aug. 16, 2006, relative to the “internal notes” issue.

Cafaro Co. records show OVM paid $23,001 to that law firm for “research and memorandum regarding county treasurer’s right to refuse to sign checks or invest in internal county debt,” the prosecutors said.

Zachariah swore in his April 5, 2007, deposition that he didn’t email to Cafaro Sr. on Jan. 25, 2007, a National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health notification concerning an air-quality complaint at Garland, the prosecutors said.

Under oath, Zachariah also denied being asked by anyone to delay or sabotage JFS’ move from Garland to Oakhill.

Prosecutors cited, however, what they said were numerous “instances where defendant Zachariah aided Anthony Cafaro Sr.’s efforts to sabotage or otherwise thwart the contemplated move from Garland to Oakhill.”

Zachariah, McNally and Cafaro met on Feb. 13, 2006, concerning strategies to block the move, and Zachariah met with Cafaro six more times that year, with discussion concerning relocation costs, including the cost of moving a computer system, and renovation costs for the new JFS quarters at Oakhill, prosecutors said.

A tampering-with-records charge accused Zachariah of making false statements concerning JFS’ moving and renovation costs, “thereby artificially increasing the projected costs.”

“John Zachariah had a stellar career in public service of close to 25 years. No one ever made any allegations of wrongdoing before this case, and we deny every allegation of wrongdoing,” said Roger Synenberg, Zachariah’s Cleveland lawyer.

“He met with Cafaro at the direction of the [county] commissioners” and George J. Tablack, then county administrator, Synenberg said.

“They said, ‘He’s your landlord. Meet with him and see if you can work these things out,’” Synenberg said, referring to complaints regarding the Garland building.

The Cafaro Co. paid $7,500 worth of legal fees for Zachariah before his deposition and an additional $20,000 for legal services before the July 2007 trial of the taxpayer lawsuit to an unnamed law firm, the prosecutors said in their bribery accusation against Zachariah.

“I never got paid a nickel by Cafaro,” Synenberg said. “I never got a nickel from anybody but Zachariah” to represent Zachariah, he added.

Lawyers for Sciortino and Reardon could not be reached to comment for this story.

Paul M. Nick, executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission, who was one of the special prosecutors in the Oakhill criminal case, declined to comment.

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