Mark Belinky, the former Mahoning County Probate Court judge who pleaded guilty to tampering with records, could be sentenced to prison for up to 18 months at a court hearing today.
But when Visiting Judge Ronald Suster, a retired Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge, hands down Belinky’s sentence, it likely will be community-controlled supervision and no prison time. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, prosecuting the case, has said on the record it doesn't oppose that sentence. The sentencing is at 1:30 p.m. today.
As part of an agreement with the AG’s office, Belinky, a Democrat, resigned March 14 as judge, withdrew April 8 from the Democratic primary for the seat, pleaded guilty May 8 to the third-degree felony, and surrendered his law license July 3.
The deal also calls for Belinky, of Boardman, who turned 62 Tuesday, to continue to cooperate with the government’s investigation into corruption in the Mahoning Valley.
Tuesday also was the day Robert Rusu of Canfield was sworn in as Belinky’s replacement as probate court judge.
Rusu, selected by Republican Gov. John Kasich, is running as an independent candidate in the Nov. 4 general election for the seat against Democrat Susan Maruca of Poland.
After Belinky resigned, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court appointed R.R. Denny Clunk, a retired Stark County probate judge, to serve as interim Mahoning County probate judge.
Investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the FBI and Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office served search warrants at the probate court and Belinky’s house Feb. 7, seizing bank, tax and campaign-finance records.
The bill of information, to which Belinky pleaded guilty, states he failed to record more than $7,500 but less than $150,000 in contributions, expenditures or loans to his campaign fund between Oct. 23 and Dec. 10, 2008.
The document doesn’t provide any information about the conviction, but Belinky’s 2008 post-general election report and a lawsuit filed against him show Mike Pallotta of Naples, Fla., loaned $20,000 to Belinky on Oct. 14, 2008. Belinky then gave $5,000 to his judicial campaign Oct. 23, 2008, and then $15,000 a day later with the report stating that money came from him.
Belinky’s resignation of his law license to the state Supreme Court states it came with disciplinary action pending, but the details were filed under seal.
Belinky was appointed probate judge in November 2007 by then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, to fill a vacant seat. He was elected to a six-year term in 2008.