Talk about the perfect stocking stuffer for Christmas: Copies of The Tapes made by the FBI during its surveillance of a prominent Mahoning Valley businessman whose claim to fame was turning local government officials into marionettes.
Here’s the setting: It’s Christmas Eve and you’re in the den, sitting in front of the fire. a cigar in one hand and a snifter in the other, listening to Big Tony (as he is known to his legions of friends) giving his minions their marching orders.
Because the tapes have yet to be made public — 576 hours worth were turned over to defense lawyers by state prosecutors in the Oakhill Renaissance scandal — one can only speculate about their content.
Thus, from deep within the recesses of a suspicious mind, comes this enactment:
Big Tony (identified as Businessman 1 in court documents and said to be Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.): “John, I want to stop the county from buying Oakhill (Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center) because those two idiots (Mahoning County commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt) will move the Job and Family Services agency out of my McGuffey Mall. I want you to do whatever is necessary to block the purchase. I’ve got some high-powered lawyers on retainer and you can use them anytime to build a case against those two [expletive].”
John (then Commissioner John A. McNally, who voted against the purchase of Oakhill): “Sure thing, Tony. I’m at your disposal. You call, and I’ll come running.”
Big Tony: “I knew I could depend on you. You’ve been a loyal friend of the family for a long time. By the way, what are we going to do with that [expletive] prosecutor, Gains? I want to find somebody to run against him. My brother, my sister and I will finance the challenger’s campaign. I just need to get the right person, someone who’ll do my bidding.”
John: “I think I better keep away from that situation because Paul Gains, as the prosecutor, represents the commissioners. Hope you don’t mind.”
Big Tony: “No problem. You’ve got more important things to do.”
Cafaro’s connection to McNally and others is detailed in court documents filed by state prosecutors in support of the criminal charges against McNally, county Auditor Michael Sciortino and Atty. Martin Yavorcik for their roles in the Oakhill Renaissance scandal.
Incidentally, commissioners Traficanti and Ludt, who was defeated in his re-election bid, bought the former South Side Medical Center and moved the Job and Family Services agency out of the McGuffey Mall that was owned by the Cafaro Co. at the time.
The documents show that Yavorcik was recruited to run against Paul Gains, who, as prosecutor, got the ball rolling on the state investigation of the Oakhill purchase and the attempt by McNally, now mayor of Youngstown, Sciortino and other former county officials to block or otherwise undermine the transaction.
The current charges are the second round in the prosecution of this case. The original charges against Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., McNally, Sciortino, former county Treasurer John Reardon and former facilities director John Zachariah were dismissed after the FBI admitted in court it had one or more of the defendants under surveillance and had about 2,000 hours of tapes. The federal agency refused to release the tapes or transcripts, prompting the judge to dismiss the charges.
Ohio’s attorney general
The feds subsequently turned over the tapes and transcripts to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who is working with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor in reopening the case.
Why the preoccupation with the tapes? Because the memory of the “Traficant Tapes” still brings chills.
More than three decades ago, James A. Traficant Jr., a candidate for sheriff of Mahoning County, met with mobsters Charlie and Orlie Carabbia in the basement of their mother’s home and agreed to do their bidding as sheriff in return for $100,00. He also agreed to go after their mob competitors. The Carabbias secretly taped the conversation.
Here’s a taste:
Traficant: “Look ... I’m not talking [expletive] daydreams. ... If they’re gonna [expletive] with me, I’m gonna nail them. ... If you think about it, if I [expletive] did that ...”
Charlie Carabbia: “You can run for governor.”
Traficant, Charlie and Orlie laughed.