No, you aren’t imagining things. The headline above has appeared in this space in the recent past. It was two months ago, in fact, and we used it in making the case against state Sen. Eric Kearney being on the ticket with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald because Kearney is a tax scofflaw.
Today, we’re reprinting the headline to convey a similar message to Mahoning County Probate Judge Mark Belinky and Atty. David Engler: You are tax cheats — non-payment of taxes is tantamount to cheating the United States of America — and, therefore, we believe you have given up the right to hold elected office.
Belinky is seeking a second six-year term this year and faces two challengers in the May 6 Democratic primary: Attys. Susan Maruca and Christopher Sammarone. There is no Republican candidate.
Engler, president of the Mahoning County Educational Service Center Board and former county commissioner, is vying for the open seat on the 7th District Court of Appeals. He is competing against Atty. Anthony Donofrio, deputy law director for the city of Youngstown, for the Democratic nomination. The winner will face Republican Carol Ann Robb, Columbiana County Municipal Court judge.
OFFICERS OF THE COURT
What makes the failure by Belinky and Engler to pay their taxes even more egregious is the fact that they are officers of the court and, therefore, are to be held to a higher standard of behavior than most other public officials.
Our rejection of their candidacies comes on the heels of aggressive reporting by Vindicator writers Joe Gorman, David Skolnick and Peter Milliken. Not only do their stories provide an in-depth look at Belinky’s and Engler’s financial dealings, but reveal that neither of the political figures considers the nonpayment of taxes a major sin. It is their cavalier attitude toward one of the main responsibilities of good citizenship that offends us the most.
And lest anyone thinks that we have an ulterior motive in declaring Belinky and Engler persona non grata in the election, consider this: Prior to urging Democratic gubernatorial hopeful FitzGerald to drop Sen. Kearney from the ticket — the state senator ultimately withdrew as the lieutenant governor candidate — we refused to make an endorsement in the Youngstown mayoral race in November.
The Democratic nominee, John A. McNally, former county commissioner and Youngstown law director, had failed to persuade us that his involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal was no longer an issue.
On the other hand, we were hard-pressed to endorse McNally’s chief challenger, DeMaine Kitchen, former mayoral chief of staff and former councilman, because he was a tax cheat.
It is noteworthy that Kitchen’s tax debt pales in comparison to what Belinky and Engler owe the government.
OTHER PROBLEMS FOR BELINKY
The probate judge’s skirting the law isn’t the only problem he’s facing. He is the target of a state criminal investigation that centers on his campaign for office in 2008 and his tenure in the court.
His chambers in the courthouse and his home in Boardman were searched. Documents relating to the search show that he is being investigated for money laundering, theft and bribery.
As for his tax problems, in 2011 the IRS placed a lien on his home for owing $32,000 in income taxes from 2008 and 2009.
Last year, he had his paycheck — he earns $105,000 a year — garnished because of $20,000 he owed on a loan from 2008 plus more than $7,000 interest.
Engler, who was publicly reprimanded by the Ohio Supreme Court for having a consensual sexual relationship with a client in 2004, owes the IRS $161,000 in back taxes. The federal government has placed liens against his property. Of the amount, $154,193 is for unpaid personal federal taxes and $7,423 for taxes not paid by his law firm.
DANGERS OF FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
As this area has seen time and time again, when public officials have financial difficulties, they are susceptible to being influenced by individuals in the community who have personal agendas that are often not in best interest of the public.
With Belinky and Engler carrying such heavy financial burdens, we believe they should give up their political quests and concentrate on putting their private affairs in order.
There is nothing they can say that will restore the people’s trust in them. They are mortally wounded politically and should have enough respect for the voters to step aside.
And here’s the final irony: Engler is seeking a public office, and Belinky wants to hold on to a public office — both paid for by the taxpayers.
In other words, they believe everyone else should pay their taxes so the two of them can slop at the public trough.