The man who runs the Mahoning County department that helps poor people maintain their incomes and manage their money has some debt-management problems of his own.
Robert E. Bush Jr., the county’s $111,738-a-year Job and Family Services director, will soon have his salary garnished to pay a debt that has mushroomed from $14,396 to $70,758 through the compounding of interest over the past 22 years.
The debt stems from unpaid rent, utilities and common-area maintenance charges for a retail beauty products supply business Bush operated at the Cafaro Co.-owned McGuffey Mall between 1987 and 1991.
“I knew it was coming,” Bush said of the garnishment. “It was a debt I should have addressed over the years, and I didn’t follow through. Now, all those chickens are coming home to roost.”
Before becoming JFS director, Bush was chief of the criminal division in the county prosecutor’s office and Youngstown law director and police chief.
When the Cafaro Co. initially sued for the past-due rent, Judge Charles J. Bannon of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court issued a default judgment for $14,396 in February 1991.
When that order was not heeded, the Cafaro Co. went back to court in 2012 seeking the debt repayment — plus interest.
Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of the same court issued a garnishment order for $70,758 against Bush on Dec. 17, 2012, and a JFS messenger and clerk signed for it when it was delivered by certified mail to JFS on Dec. 20.
On Thursday, Ronald J. Yourstowsky, a Cafaro Co. lawyer, filed a written motion asking that the county be held in contempt of court for not responding to the order to garnish Bush’s salary after the passage of five months since Judge Sweeney’s order.
Although the order was delivered to JFS, the county’s payroll director, Thomas Lyden, never received it, but the garnishment will begin as soon as he receives the judge’s order, a spokeswoman for the county auditor’s office said Friday. Lyden declined to speak directly to a reporter.
Under state law, garnishments can be as much as 25 percent of wages, but Bush said he did not know what the percentage would be in his case.
“It’s now the county’s responsibility. As his employer, the county is responsible for garnishing his wages,” said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co.
“You would think the county would follow the course of the law as dictated by its own common pleas court,” Bell added.
“We just have to look at the law and see exactly what our defenses are,” County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said of the county’s legal position.
After working out a payment plan in 1991, Bush made a few payments and then stopped paying about a year later, Bell said.
“We intended to collect all along the way,” Bell said, adding that Cafaro executives “tried to cut him some slack,” but “patience only lasts so long.”
Bush and Bell said Gains was a former partner in the beauty supply business, but was no longer involved in it when the rent payments ceased. Bush’s 448-square-foot store rented for $300 per month, plus utilities and common-area maintenance charges, Bell said.
“I was out of the business because I didn’t sign the option” to renew the lease in 1989, Gains said. “I wasn’t about to renew a lease that I was losing money on.”
Bush said he met with Anthony Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co., last fall in an unsuccessful effort to try to resolve the debt issue because the Cafaro Co. had placed a lien on his house for the debt, and Bush wanted the lien to be removed so he could refinance a line of credit on his house.
In that meeting, Bush said Cafaro maintained that he had been “persecuted” because Gains had initiated the probe that led to Cafaro and others being indicted on charges they conspired to impede the 2007 move of JFS from rented quarters in the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place.
The entire Oakhill case was dismissed because state special prosecutors were unable to obtain tapes recorded by the FBI that had to be shared with the defense in the pretrial evidence exchange known as discovery.
Bush said he told Cafaro that he wasn’t involved in the Oakhill investigation.