By David Skolnick
Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino’s Republican opponent questions if an apology by the incumbent related to a controversial traffic stop nearly nine months ago is sincere.
A Summit County Sheriff’s Department investigation of the May 26, 2013, traffic stop determined Sciortino “failed miserably” a field sobriety test, but was charged only with a marked-lanes violation. After a follow-up investigation by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Sciortino also was charged in October with failure to control.
Republican Bill Reese, a former eight-year Canfield Township trustee who’ll face Sciortino in the November general election, questioned Friday why Sciortino, a Democrat, took so long to discuss the incident.
“He wouldn’t have come out and apologized if I didn’t file papers last week to run against him,” said Reese, a retired tool-supply business owner. “I’m an opponent he doesn’t want to face. I have integrity. He’s apparently running scared.”
In response, Sciortino said Friday that Reese’s criticism of his apology is a “desperate move. He’s trying to capitalize on an unfortunate situation. I made a bad decision and my apology is very sincere.”
“Most of us in this county have had enough of crime and corruption and deceit and deception and total disregard for the future of Mahoning County,” Reese said. “This has to change. People need a person they can trust in the auditor’s office. I can restore that trust.”
If elected, Reese said he would make the office “more businesslike and restore integrity. This county has a choice with Michael Sciortino and the same-old, same-old, or bring trust to the office by voting for me.”
Sciortino said his office is professional, recently receiving a certificate of excellence in financial reporting from the Ohio Government Finance Officers’ Association for the seventh-consecutive year.
Since his May 26, 2013, traffic stop, Sciortino has refused to discuss the matter. He emailed a prepared statement to the media July 3 and Oct. 24 apologizing for the incident while refusing interviews.
“When he got in trouble he didn’t want to talk to the press,” Reese said. “When there was wrongdoing, he should have apologized then.”
But Sciortino finally has broken his silence.
Sciortino told The Vindicator on Friday that he had a “few drinks. I don’t know the amount” and had taken prescription medication for allergies when he was pulled over in Canfield Township by Sgt. James Touville of the county sheriff’s department.
“I shouldn’t have been driving,” he said. “I should have known better.”
When asked if he was intoxicated, Sciortino said, “I wouldn’t use the word intoxicated. It was an impairment. It was a bad decision and a bad situation.”
Touville pulled Sciortino over on suspicion of driving under the influence. About an hour earlier, police received a call from an employee of Wendy’s restaurant, close to where Sciortino was pulled over, about a man asleep in a car that turned out to be the auditor’s.
Touville cuffed Sciortino and put him in a patrol car. The officer then called his supervisor, who called his supervisor, Maj. Jeffrey Allen, who called T.J. Assion, then a commander, who came to the scene. Assion, who drove Sciortino home, told Summit County investigators “his sole purpose” was to get “Sciortino out of a DUI” and that the auditor is “a good friend of his.”
The fallout led to Assion’s being demoted to his previous rank of sergeant, which included a $19,000 annual pay cut, while Allen and Touville were suspended without pay for 10 and three days, respectively.
“The outcome was a lot of people were disciplined,” Sciortino said.
When asked if he thought it was unusual for Assion to take him from the scene and drive him home, Sciortino, who’s an attorney, said, “At that point, what you’re trying to do is follow the instructions of law-enforcement personnel. I tell my clients to follow the instructions of law enforcement. I didn’t question them.”
Allen told investigators that Sciortino called him a day or two after to presumedly thank him for not charging him with drunken driving.
“I don’t know why he said that,” Sciortino said Friday. “There was no type of thank you. I was responding to a call [from Allen about something] I can’t recall. But I didn’t thank him.”
The Summit County investigators wrote in their report that FBI agents interviewed Sciortino on May 31, 2013.
Sciortino said agents asked him if he called anyone to get out of being arrested, he told them he didn’t and “that was it.”
Sciortino also revealed Friday that the Ohio Supreme Court’s disciplinary counsel has reviewed the incident as he is an attorney and chosen not to proceed with an investigation.