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Support for Belinky is pathetic

Published: Sun, April 6, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

To understand why any lawyer in Mahoning County would continue to support Mark Belinky, who recently resigned as probate judge in the midst of a state criminal investigation of him, you need to travel back in time, to the late 1990s when the Valley was attracting national attention because of widespread government corruption. This is how the New York Times portrayed what was going on:

“The specter of corrupted officials perennially vowing to root out corruption in this Mahoning Valley city [Youngstown] prompted a bleak warning in 1997 from Thomas Moyer, the chief justice of the State Supreme Court: ‘The citizens of Mahoning County have reason to question whether the legal system is working for them.’”

The legal system wasn’t working for the people then, and, unfortunately, isn’t working for the people today.

The criminal justice system is so incestuous that a judge like Belinky who, at the very least, is a tax scofflaw, is given a pass by a vast majority of the members of the legal community. There was no demand by the bar association, other judges or lawyers that he step down when reports surfaced of his nonpayment of taxes. There was no roar of condemnation of the probate judge when state agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, with the assistance of the FBI and the sheriff’s department, raided his office in the courthouse and his home in Boardman and carted off boxes of documents, various other articles and computers.

Pattern of corrupt activity

Most telling, there was no demand for his resignation after court documents showed that he could be charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.

Belinky ultimately resigned — on his own terms. He insisted that he had done nothing wrong and was hanging up his robes for the good of the community. Baloney? Not if the Mahoning County Bar Association’s evaluation of judicial candidates in this year’s election is a reflection of the public’s attitude.

The judicial evaluation by members of the bar was conducted in late February — after the raid on Belinky’s office and home. The embattled judge received a “recommended” rating. Go figure. Or, better yet, go and read what FBI Special Agent Robert Kroner, the bane of organized crime’s existence in the Mahoning Valley, told New Republic magazine in 2000:

“We’re a part of this community like everyone else. We suffer the same problems if we live in a corrupt town.”

The writer, David Grann, then described what happened next in his interview with Kroner:

“He [Kroner] pauses for a moment, perhaps because he can’t think of anything to say or perhaps because he’s not able to talk about the expected Traficant indictment or perhaps because he realizes that, after 25 years in the Mahoning Valley, he’s done all he can do. ‘As long as they choose to put people in office who are corrupt,’ he says, ‘nothing will ever change.’”

Kroner has since retired. James A. Traficant Jr. spent about eight years in federal prison after being convicted of 10 criminal charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. The charges stemmed from his tenure as the 17th District congressman.

The New Republic article was headlined, “Crimetown USA.”

In the Mahoning Valley, political history repeats itself.


After Traficant, there was the conviction of Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Cronin and county Treasurer Lisa Antonini. Now, there’s the saga of Belinky — and whoever else he implicates. There are rumblings that a whole bunch of lawyers and, perhaps, even a judge, could get caught in the government-corruption dragnet.

It has been said in this space many times that government corruption is in the Mahoning Valley’s DNA.

But if you’re still not convinced that our history will keep repeating itself, consider this entry in Friday’s Years Ago column:

“1964: Youngstown City Council President Joseph E. O’Neill and racketeer Joey Naples return from Washington, D.C., after O’Neill, a lawyer, helped Naples retain Washington legal counsel for Naples’ appeal of two felony convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

O’Neill was ultimately elected to serve on the 7th District Court of Appeals.

The late judge is Belinky’s father-in-law.


1Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Where was the Bar Association when they knew Belinky was still filing cases after he was appointed judge? They all knew what was going on but said and did nothing.

But Belinky is a small part of a much larger on-going investigation into the political corruption in Mahoning County. Current and former elected officials, judges, attorneys and county staff are all being investigated. Lets hope these people get taken down sooner rather than later, it took them 5 years to get Belinky out, can anyone take another 5 minutes of Betras?

Hopefully when the buses haul away the offenders we can elect some people with sights beyond their PERS statements and putting cash in their pockets in office.

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2johnyoung(241 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

I frequently disagree with Bertram's musings, but in this column I agree with most of what he says.

There has for many years existed a culture of chicanery within many, but not all members of the local legal community. What should be most offensive to the public is that while illegal and unethical activities are rampant, these legal "pillars", including a number of local jurists, maintain an air of moral superiority, although they are in many respects no better than the criminals who come before them.

I agree that the public has made many poor choices when selecting elected officials, but choices are limited due to the shenanigans of the local democrat party, which constantly pressures unendorsed candidates drop out of contested races. What's a voter to do?

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3questionreality(247 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

“1964: Youngstown City Council President Joseph E. O’Neill and racketeer Joey Naples return from Washington, D.C., after O’Neill, a lawyer, helped Naples retain Washington legal counsel for Naples’ appeal of two felony convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

So, knowing what they know the Vindy did this:


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4Knightcap(697 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

The democrat party has been corrupt here for decades. That's what happens when you have one party rule and continue to vote the same way over and over again.

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5Cicero(36 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Pretty shallow, Bert - so any lawyer who does his professional duty to provide legal counsel to one accused of crime is, by association, corrupt himself? Was Clarence Darrow corrupt? How about John Adams ( who defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre) ? Clearly Bert does not under stand the role of the lawyer in the criminal justice system.Then to draw the analogy that because Joe O'Neill once defended a notorious gangster, his son-in-way is a crook is bizarre at best. Not saying that that makes Belinky "innocent," bu maybe the reason some lawyers assessed Belinky as "recommended" is that, despite what he may be accused of ( and he hasn't yet been charged with anything, despite the attitude of some that he is already found guilty) he did a good and effective job as Probate Judge.

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6Fontana(18 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Pathetic....exactly how most describe Mr. de Souza. Not that I'm inclined to support Belinki - hard to support a tax evader public servant, but that doesn't mean that he's guilty of the alleged crimes. In the USA, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. Apparently, if you're in the Vindy's crosshairs, guilt or innocence doesn't matter. The accusation alone is cause to ruin one's career and reputation. Shame on you!! Respect the system; guilt or innocence is not determined by your pathetic weekly column.

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7gdog4766(1489 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

You Bert are a coward! You deliberately fail to point out that at the time Judge ONeill was a practicing criminal defense lawyer with Naples as a client. Since when does this type of association lend itself to corruption. I'd love to know who some of your associates are. I knew Judge ONeill and he was a breath of fresh honest air on the bench. Probably one of the most brilliant to have served. Never in his thirty plus years on the bench was he ever suspect of anything except doing his job. I garuntee you if alive he'd would have been mortified at this idiots behaviour. But to slimily drag his name into this is indicative of why you have stayed at a small town paper like this all these years. You are a cowardly,S.O.B.

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8thirtyninedollars(255 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

What happened to innocent until proven guilty by a jury of your peers?
Seems like you already condemned the man before the trial even started.
Not saying he is innocent but not saying he is guilty. Is corruption endemic to this region still? Yes I agree.

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9Nurse_Midlo(34 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Mahoning Valley politics are an unending soap opera:


Like the BCI van rolling up 5th Avenue,
So are the politicians of the Mahoning Valley.


Bertie, the Mahoning Valley is truly defines a place with a "culture of corruption"!

What's next? The Cafaro Co buys off politicians to support a new airport!?

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10ytownboy22(65 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Imagine how Bert would have covered the Founding Fathers as they designed our governmental institutions and principles. "Leaders give store away to would be criminals. Confer rights on the accused instead of backing citizenry from graft." Cat has his view of the world; anything that doesn't comport with his notions is corrupt, Bill of Rights be damned. IDIOT

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11Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Sounds like many of the attorneys that were on the take are upset, poor baby's are going to jail with Belinky.

It was common knowledge about what was going on in Belinky's court, so no one should be surprised about what's happening.

If Belinky was innocent he would not have resigned, he would have stayed and fought the charges, so stop with all of the BS about innocent until proven guilty, Belinky knows what he did and that's why he stepped down.

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12Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Maloney was a far worse judge than Mark Belinky. Even on Belinky's worst day the probate court was much easier to navigate than dealing with that crackpot.

But in regards to the "recommended" given by the Mahoning County Bar Association, maybe the lawyers kept that fact in mind despite Belinky's shortcomings. Sammarone doesn't have as much experience, and the Maruca-Betras connection is one that is a little disturbing and we still don't know that whole story.

But the fact they lumped Maruca in with Hanni and Engler as "not recommended" sends a pretty strong message. And to recommend someone currently under investigation over the endorsed Democratic candidate shows somewhere along the way Belinky must have done right in how he ran his court as opposed to those before him and those currently in line for that seat.

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13listener(112 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

It's time to demote the Kernal! He doesn't speak the truth!

Yes, Belinky made it easier for the attorneys in his court to pass him cash.

The Maruca-Betras connection is a figment of Sammarones campaign, there is no connection.

The real facts are this, the same people donating to Sammarones campaign donated to Belinky campaign 6 years ago. That's the truth. They don't want to stop the flow of little brown bags of cash.

Maruca won't put up with that, she's not a "player" and therefore the powers that be don't want her in, including the scumbag Bar Association.

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14Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Figment of Sammarone's campaign? The only person in town who would say that is Dave Betras. Is that who I am speaking to?

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15Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Or should I call you Jailbirds93

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16listener(112 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

ANYONE who knows Maruca and knows Betras would be able to tell ANYONE there is no connection, let's remember Maruca left the Betras firm, she couldn't stand being there anymore. ANYONE that says there is a connection is a liar. A falsehood made up for the Sammaorne campaign. (Do you still think I'm Dave Betras?)

Obviously I am not Jailbirds93, another demotion for the Kernal!

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17Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

I think you are Jailbirds93 for this reason. That individual also used the " demotion of the Kernal" reference and the same confusion between kernal and colonel exists. So either that is one hell of a coincidence or you two are one in the same.

Maybe you are Betras, maybe you aren't. But doth protest too much and you sure like defending the guy.

Maruca's leaving the law firm is irrelevant. But this story was alive long before this probate race began. I doubt Sammarone started this years ago in anticipation of an indictment of Mark Belinky.

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18listener(112 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Really? I just think you are a dumb sh_t that supports people like Belinky and all of his kind that have brought this valley down for decades.

Jailbirds was right and if he used it first I congratulate him for being spot on about you.

I can't stand Betras and for all we know YOU are Betras.

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19Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

So is that supposed to hurt my feelings? I've fought for good government for a long time here. Unfortunate it has fallen on deaf ears. But if you think Maruca is not connected to Betras (and that doesn't mean they have to be friends) you must be pretty naive. And judging by your inability to look past the surface of things politically, you probably don't know your @$$ from a hole in the ground.

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20listener(112 comments)posted 5 months, 1 week ago

Well Kernal, this is your guy:

"Charles Sammarone, a Mahoning County Probate Court judge candidate, is using a quote from Jim Tressel, his former football coach at Youngstown State University, calling him “a leader” on his campaign materials.

The quote prompted a response from Tressel, an administrator at the University of Akron, through the school’s communications department.

“He heard about this issue from some friends who made him aware of the use of the quote,” said Eileen Korey, a university spokeswoman. “Apparently, the quote comes from an old Youngstown Vindicator article written back when Chris played for Coach Tressel” in the early 1990s"

Talk about misleading the voters!

Chris you are in way over your head, get out now before people force you into doing things you will regret the rest of your life.

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