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Has private jitney service returned?



Published: Sun, June 23, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)


If a publicly unidentified high-ranking officer in the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department (we know who you are!) is looking for a “I’m not the first one to do it” defense for giving county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino a ride home after he was cited for failing to drive within marked lanes, he should get a copy of The Vindicator of July 12, 1995.

In it he’ll find a story headlined, “Police chief: Allegations are just politics.”

Here’s the lead paragraph of the article with a Poland dateline:

“Township Police Chief Carl Massullo says charges by trustee candidate Leonard Coloutes that he neglected his duty by being driven home from a tavern by one of his officers is a case of election-year politics.”

Massullo’s rescue by Sgt. Gary Abed, who was on duty, occurred April 14 while the chief was off duty.

The chief denied he was drunk and said Abed gave him a ride to his Boardman home “because I became ill.”

But Coloutes contended that Massullo was drinking at The Office tavern on U.S. Route 224, and that Sgt. Abed used his cruiser as a private jitney.

Incidentally, the story gave rise to a column that this writer headlined, “Our slogan: To protect and to chauffeur.”

The opening paragraph read as follows:

“Here’s a sure-fire way for Poland Township to gain national notoriety. It should adopt as its slogan, “Poland Township, the community that cares. You do the drinking, we do the driving.”

Just replace “Poland Township” with the unnamed high-ranking official (We know who you are!) in the sheriff’s department, and there’s the defense for his running interference for county Auditor Sciortino.

WHAT HAPPENED THAT NIGHT?

As reported by The Vindicator, Sgt. James Touville had stopped Sciortino, who was driving a black Buick, on U.S. Route 224 east of Raccoon Road.

The stop came after an employee of Wendy’s on Route 224 called 911 to report that a man had fallen asleep in a car outside the restaurant. The employee gave a license number of a black Buick to dispatchers.

Records show it was the car Sciortino was driving.

It is not clear whether Sgt. Touville gave a field sobriety test to the county auditor, nor is there any indication that a Breathalyzer test was administered.

However, the traffic stop and the citation for failing to drive within marked lanes prompted the high-ranking member of the sheriff’s department to show up and give the county auditor a ride home.

As The Vindicator reported June 9: “Yet to be explained is why someone would need a ride home after a misdemeanor lane violation.”

GREENE MAKES RIGHT MOVE

To his credit, Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene, who has been on the job since Jan. 1, concluded the Sciortino case demanded a full investigation.

And to make sure there can be no claims of a cover-up, Greene contacted the Buckeye Sheriff’s Association, which recommended the Summit County Sheriff’s Department to conduct the probe.

Deputies have been gathering the facts and interviewing everyone involved in the Sciortino case.

The auditor already has paid a $50 fine and $80 in court costs in Mahoning County Area Court in Canfield.

He has not commented publicly about that night. The question he must answer is this: Is it right for a public official to get special treatment from law enforcement?

That was the point Coloutes was driving home in 1995 when he asked the Poland Township trustees why they did not fire then police Chief Massullo.

In the column about the Poland Township jitney service, this writer challenged the police chief’s contention that Coloutes’ allegations do not deserve a response.

“But they do, because even though Massullo insists that he was off duty, he still used his position to get a police officer on duty to drive him home — out of the township limits,” this writer argued

It was wrong for a public official to get special treatment 18 years ago, and it’s wrong for an officeholder to get special treatment the night of May 26.

It is noteworthy that Sciortino is one of several county officials who faced state criminal charges in the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal. The charges were dismissed, but the gist of the state case is that an influential businessman received special treatment from county officials.


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