When Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty stood before reporters May 14 to discuss the criminal indictment of Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally et al, he referred to the insidious nature of government corruption in his own county and in Mahoning County.
It was an appropriate comparison — insofar as the political histories of both regions are concerned.
“Corruption causes great damage to the community and to community confidence,” McGinty said, as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine looked on. “And as we have seen in the past in Cuyahoga County and in Youngstown, considerable damage has already been inflicted. We are going to actively pursue this and any other corruption allegations where the evidence supports it and demands prosecution. That’s what we’re doing here. The details of these allegations will come out during the litigation and the trial.”
In other words, the Mahoning Valley’s dirty laundry will be aired in Cleveland once the government corruption trial of McNally, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik pertaining to the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy begins. The charges against McNally relate to his tenure as county commissioner.
Attorney General DeWine, who is leading the state prosecution team, and McGinty had the news conference to unveil the 83-count indictment against the three accused.
The reason the case is being tried in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court is that McGinty has determined that some of the criminal acts pertaining to the effort to derail Mahoning County’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place had occurred in Cuyahoga County. McGinty asked DeWine and his staff to handle the prosecution.
The county prosecutor’s statement to reporters is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it leaves little doubt that McNally, Sciortino and Yavorcik, who were arraigned Thursday, are not the only ones who will be tried for what the government alleges was a criminal conspiracy involving 23 people to undermine the purchase of the former South Side Medical Center by Mahoning County commissioners. While McNally opposed the purchase, his two colleagues on the board, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, voted to buy the complex located near the central business district.
The effort to derail the transaction was led by Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co. His role in the government-corruption conspiracy is explained in detail in the indictment, although he isn’t named.
The second reason McGinty’s statement is worth noting is his use of the word “past” in talking about corruption in Cuyahoga County and Youngstown.
Yes, we’re haunted by our histories. But while we in the Mahoning Valley continue to repeat ours, the residents of Cuyahoga County have taken a giant step toward a new chapter.
In 2009, as federal indictments of public officials, including then Commissioner Jimmy Dimora, who had chaired the county Democratic Party, were unleashed, residents went to the polls and voted to change the form of county government. They revolted against the one-party (Democratic) domination, corruption and inefficiencies inherent in traditional government.
They adopted a charter that created the elected position of county executive, which is occupied by Ed FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and the Democratic nominee for governor this year, and 11 county council members representing 11 districts. The only other elected position in Cuyahoga County government is that of prosecutor.
By contrast, the history of corruption in the Mahoning Valley continues to be rewritten.
Consider this: Even after 70-plus public officials, including judges, a sheriff and a prosecutor, mobsters and others were convicted of government corruption, there have been subsequent classes of lawbreakers.
Efforts by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber and other community-minded organizations to change the form of county government in Mahoning and Trumbull counties have been met with derision.
The dominance of the Democratic Party in this region is a barrier to the sweeping change necessary to end the corruption.
Cuyahoga County is striving to shed its putrid past. We aren’t.