It was just five lines in the 21-page report on the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office Internal Investigation conducted by the Summit County’s Sheriff’s Office, but the message they impart has far-reaching consequences. Indeed, you could go out on a limb and say that the federal government’s probe of public corruption in Mahoning County is very much alive.
Here’s what the report said:
“On May 31, 2013, Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents, Deane Hassman and Thomas A. Donnelly conducted an interview with Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino regarding the incident on May 26, 2013, that involved him and personnel from the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office. The typed interview is attached to this report.”
The typed interview was not attached to copies of the report given to press by Sheriff Jerry Greene. And true to form, the FBI agents aren’t going to share the details of the Sciortino interview with reporters.
Thus, we can only speculate. The FBI-county auditor tete a tete was prompted by a May 26 traffic in which Sciortino was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving, but was subsequently charged only with failure to drive within lanes and was given a ride home by then sheriff’s department Commander Thomas J. Assion.
The rotten fish smell emanating from the incident prompted Sheriff Greene to seek an independent investigation into the actions of Assion and other members of his staff. As a result of the findings of investigators, Greene demoted Assion to his previous rank of sergeant.
STATE CORRUPTION CASE
And given that the object of the former commander’s affection was Sciortino, let’s not forget that he was one of five individuals charged criminally by the state in a government corruption case.
The state’s case against Sciortino, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co., former county Commissioner John A. McNally IV, former county Treasurer John Reardon and former county Job and Family Services Director John Zachariah was triggered by the political battle over the relocation of the JFS offices from the Cafaro-owned McGuffey Mall to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place (formerly South Side Medical Center).
The state dropped the charges after the FBI revealed in open court that it is sitting on 2,000 hours of wiretaps and other audio and visual surveillance of individuals in and out of county government.
One target of the surveillance is said to be Cafaro. If that’s so, the other defendants in the state case can be assumed also to be detected by the feds.
Then there’s the issue of former county Treasurer Lisa Antonini’s sentencing in federal court. She has pleaded guilty to taking money from a prominent businessman and not declaring it. The feds have not identified the businessman, but court documents show it is Cafaro Sr.
U.S. District Court Judge Sara Lioi has put off sentencing Antonini and has indicated the former Democratic Party leader will be treated leniently if she cooperates fully with federal, state or local investigations or prosecutions.
More than two years later, the question still looms: What names has she provided to the federal government?
So, when the internal investigative report of the county sheriff’s department reveals that two FBI agents interviewed Sciortino about the “incident ... that involved him and personnel from the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office,” they were obviously continuing their probe of government corruption in Mahoning County.
Absent the FBI transcript of the interview, let’s imagine the exchange based on Sciortino’s history.
FBI: Mr. Sciortino, you received special treatment from sheriff’s personnel that’s not available to the common person. Was there a quid pro quo?
Sciortino: I never asked to be given a ride home, but only a fool would pass up the chance of avoiding a drunken- driving charge. I’m just a likeable kind of guy.
FBI: Why do you think that Commander Assion would intervene on your behalf? Do you and he have a mutual friend who exerts a great deal of political influence in the Valley?
Sciortino: I don’t know why TJ decided to get involved, but I’m grateful to him. I think it’s unfair he was demoted by the sheriff. He was just being a nice guy. What’s the point in being on the public payroll if you can’t do favors for each other? Did I say that? I take it back. Delete it. I was only joking.