First, some comic relief — from the political tension that has gripped the Mahoning Valley for a week:
Did you hear the one about the probate court judge who is the target of a criminal investigation? He says it’s all a ruse; that he’s actually working with state and federal investigators to blow the lid off government corruption.
As for state and federal law enforcement agents and sheriff’s deputies swooping down on his office in the courthouse and his home? That’s for public consumption, designed to make it all look real.
Here’s another knee slapper.
Did you hear the one about the lawyer who’s seeking a seat on the court of appeals? He says the $161,000 he owes the Internal Revenue Service in back taxes is not an ethical problem; it’s a cash-flow problem.
But wait. Here’s another doozie from him: Having a tax problem will make him a better judge because he will be able to be simpatico with defendants.
(In that case, wouldn’t a lawyer who has committed murder be the ideal candidate for a judgeship?)
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the past week or so, you would know that the first “joke” comes from Mahoning County Probate Judge Mark Belinky, who is seeking re-election to a second six-year term this year.
Belinky is the target of a wide-ranging probe by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
BCI agents, with the assistance of the FBI and sheriff’s deputies, carted off boxes of documents, computers and other material in their search for evidence to support possible bribery, money laundering and theft charges.
While the search warrant has been made public, the affidavit submitted by BCI Special Agent Supervisor James Ciotti remains sealed.
Why? Agent Ciotti requested the seal on the following ground: “The affidavit contains information which could compromise an ongoing investigation and which could identify uncharged suspects.”
The key words: Uncharged suspects.
Who are they? Let the speculation begin.
The second “joke” comes from Atty. David Engler, who at one time in the not too distant past was viewed as the antithesis of the corrupt public officials who over the years had brought shame to this region.
Engler was involved in the Mahoning Democrats for Change movement that ousted long-time Democratic Party Chairman Don L. Hanni Jr. and was a breath of fresh air when he served as county commissioner.
Unfortunately, that David Engler has given way to a self-serving, arrogant political hack who has joined forces with Mark Hanni, son of the late party chairman.
Engler is seeking the 7th District Court of Appeals seat being vacated by Judge Joseph J. Vukovich III, while Hanni is challenging appeals court Judge Cheryl Waite.
Over the past week, residents of Mahoning County have been virulent in their criticism of Belinky and Engler, who received a public reprimand from the Ohio Supreme Court several years ago because he had a consensual sexual relationship with a female client.
What is distressing is the silence emanating from the political class; it’s deafening.
It should come as no surprise that the Republican Party chairman, Mark Munroe, is AWOL. He has proved to be politically inept. (See last week’s column).
It is also no great revelation that Democratic Party Chairman David Betras has chosen not to go after Belinky and Engler with guns blazing for their obvious betrayal of the legal profession. Betras is walking a fine line. He does not want to influence the endorsement process of the party and isn’t keen on taking on a Democratic officeholder, Judge Belinky.
But the chairman knows that all the negative publicity surrounding the two Democrats isn’t good for the party. It continues to feed the perception that corruption is in the region’s political DNA.
So, aren’t there any other officeholders, Republicans or Democrats, who share the public’s disgust over Belinky and Engler?
Apparently not — if the deafening silence is an indication.
Such silence is not golden. It simply confirms the public’s belief that government is a see-no-evil fraternity.