By Joe Gorman
Agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation with help from the FBI and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office searched the county probate court Friday afternoon as well as the home of Probate Judge Mark Belinky.
Judge Belinky, who earlier this week filed to run for re-election, would not comment other than to read a brief statement that said: “On the advice of counsel, I will only say that since my election I have faithfully discharged my duties as judge of the Mahoning County Probate Court.”
Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for BCI, said that agency is leading the investigation and that the FBI and sheriff’s office are assisting. She would not say what agents were searching for, only that they served warrants Friday afternoon at the probate court as well as Judge Belinky’s Windsor Road home in Boardman.
She said agents seized documents and electronic evidence such as computers.
Sheriff Jerry Greene also would not say what agents were looking for. He said they spent about two hours at the court.
Vicki Anderson, a spokesman for the Cleveland office of the FBI, referred any questions to BCI.
David Betras, county Democratic Party chairman, said he wants to see the legal process play itself out.
“I have faith in the court system. I have faith in BCI and the FBI, and I have faith in the voters,” said Betras, who also is a lawyer. “This will play out in their respective areas.”
Judge Belinky has battled tax problems in the past. In 2011, the IRS placed a lien on his home for owing $32,000 in income taxes from 2008 and 2009.
Judge Belinky and his wife were put on a payment plan to pay the taxes. The judge said then that the tax problems were caused because of income he earned when he closed out his private law practice, where he was self-employed at the same time he began his career on the bench.
Judge Belinky also had his paycheck garnished last year because of $20,000 he owed on a loan from 2008 plus more than $7,000 interest.
As probate judge, he makes about $105,000 annually.
Judge Belinky was appointed to the court in 2007 by former Gov. Ted Strickland to replace Judge Timothy Maloney, who retired. In 2008, Judge Belinky won re-election, beating Struthers Municipal Court Judge James Lanzo and Atty. Susan Maruca in the Democratic primary and then defeating Mahoning County Judge Scott Hunter in the general election.
In this year’s primary, Judge Belinky faces a challenge from Maruca again as well as Atty. Chris Sammarone.
In 1993, Belinky’s father, former Mahoning County Coroner Nathan Belinky, received a six-month jail sentence, with 150 of those days to be served on house arrest and 30 days to be served at Community Corrections Association, after he pleaded guilty to charges he sold drugs.
He faced similar charges in Trumbull County. The charges forced him to give up his position as coroner. He received an early release from his house arrest to care for his ailing wife. He died in November 1999.