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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, 4 weeks 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, 4 weeks 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(267 comments)posted 5 months, 4 weeks 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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4Cicero(36 comments)posted 5 months, 4 weeks 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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5Nurse_Midlo(34 comments)posted 5 months, 4 weeks 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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6Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 5 months, 4 weeks 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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7Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks 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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8Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks 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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9Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Or should I call you Jailbirds93

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10Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks 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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11Roger_Thornhill(554 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks ago

How long has it been since Scott Cochran was president of the bar association?

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12Kernaloftruth(86 comments)posted 5 months, 3 weeks 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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