Mahoning County Engineer Patrick Ginnetti stands by his hiring of a Canfield man who admitted stealing from the Ohio Turnpike Commission while working as a toll collector there.
Paul A. Bindas, 47, of Beech Court, started his new full-time, $33,301-a-year job as a laborer with the county April 17.
On April 3, 2012, Bindas pleaded guilty to a one-count information charging him with fourth-degree felony theft from the turnpike between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 4, 2011.
Last October, Judge Lou A. D’Apolito of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court sentenced Bindas to six months’ probation supervised by the Ohio Adult Parole Authority and ordered $35,949 withheld from his state retirement account and sent to the turnpike as restitution.
On Feb. 11, Bindas’ probation officer recommended that Bindas be discharged from supervision because “he has complied with the rules and regulations and is no longer in need of supervision.” Judge D’Apolito then ordered Bindas’ supervision terminated.
“He’s paid the price. It was time to go back to work,” Ginnetti said of Bindas.
“He was accused of something. He pled. He paid restitution and he admitted it,” Ginnetti said. “He’s not going to be in a position here that’s handling money. He’s a laborer, and I felt he deserved a second chance to move on with his life.”
Bindas acknowledged his theft conviction on his job application, Ginnetti said.
Bindas, who is physically fit and passed a pre-employment drug test, is still within his 60-day probationary period as a new employee, Ginnetti said. “He’s a hard worker. The guys on the crew get along with him,” the engineer added.
Bindas was hired Dec. 8, 1991, as a turnpike toll collector and fired Nov, 22, 2011, for theft, said Atty. Kathleen Weiss, turnpike general counsel. His final annual salary as a full-time toll-taker was $50,772.
The restitution amount that was deducted from Bindas’ Ohio Public Employee Retirement System contributions will reduce Bindas’ pension amount, Weiss said. The $35,949 in restitution covers all the money the turnpike could prove Bindas stole from it, Weiss said.
Bindas would collect tolls from truckers making long turnpike trips, destroy the tickets they submitted and replace them with tickets he’d generate for much-shorter trips, pocketing the difference in cash, according to Weiss and Nicholas Modarelli, chief assistant Mahoning County prosecutor.
A typical trip by an 18-wheeler across the entire 241-mile Ohio Turnpike costs $35 with EZ Pass and $44 with cash, but a trip from Market Street Extension in North Lima to the East Gate near the Pennsylvania line, where Bindas worked, costs $1.25 or $1.50 respectively, Weiss noted.
The theft was investigated by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Weiss said she was unaware of any request from the Mahoning County Engineer’s Office for verification of Bindas’ turnpike employment.
“I didn’t feel I needed to [make that request] because he’s going to be in a laborer position,” Ginnetti said.