Before you get all hot and bothered over the use of the “c” word in the headline, consider this: Seventeen years ago, a special prosecutor from outside the Mahoning Valley who was brought in to investigate government corruption was upset with a Vindicator reporter for delving into his background and tossed out a comment that would become his trademark:
“I’m trying to save your crappy community.”
So said Jonathan E. Rosenbaum, an assistant in the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office, in January 1997 — six months after being appointed by the Mahoning County judges to decide which corruption cases to present to a special grand jury.
Rosenbaum had a well-earned reputation for speaking his mind, and it wasn’t long before he was locking horns with defense lawyers and a visiting judge.
This led to the suggestion that Rosenbaum came in believing that government corruption is in the region’s DNA.
Subsequent convictions of officeholders, including a congressman, judges, a county prosecutor, a sheriff, a county treasurer and a couple of county commissioners, certainly give credence to the negative attitudes outsiders have of Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Indeed, a federal prosecutor assigned to Youngstown made this observation about the court system: Judges should be the loneliest people in the community. The message was clear: There’s something unseemly about judges socializing with lawyers and then presiding over their cases.
Such political incest has existed for a long time and is another layer of government corruption that must be attacked.
It is, therefore, telling that after all the special prosecutors, grand juries and convictions, we find ourselves in the midst of another scandal.
The so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy has turned the spotlight on the extent to which local government officials will go to please one of the richest and most powerful (politically speaking) individuals in this region.
Court documents in support of the criminal charges, including bribery and conspiracy, filed against Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally (relating to his tenure as a Mahoning County commissioner), county Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik provide a narrative of master-and-slave that is both troubling and embarrassing (for the families of the accused).
Remember Jonathan Rosenbaum’s invective, “I’m trying to save your crappy community”?
It’s not hard to imagine the individual in the Oakhill indictment identified as “Businessman 1” quipping:
“I own this crappy community and when I say jump, you say, ‘How high, sir?’”
Although the prosecution team, led by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, has not publicly identified the businessman, all signs point to Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co.
The company is one of the leading shopping-center developers in the nation and until recently owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side.
The plaza was home to the county’s Job and Family Services agency for about two decades, but two commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, decided to relocate JFS.
They voted to buy the former Southside Medical Center in 2006 and turn it into a government complex, with the JFS as the main occupant.
The indictment alleges that Cafaro Sr. conspired with county government officials and others, including McNally, Sciortino and Yavorcik, to block the county’s purchase of the former hospital complex.
A reading of numerous documents, including those released by prosecutors last week, shows the participants in the criminal enterprise — named and unnamed — lacking in self-respect and devoid of a sense of propriety in the conduct of their official duties.
How can any adult, especially an officeholder, be so subservient to one man? And, how can that man, dealt a winning hand by his Creator in the card game of life, not see anything wrong in using his money, influence and power to corrupt government?
When Rosenbaum used the word “crappy” to describe the Valley, many residents took offense. It’s now clear we should have agreed with the special prosecutor and made a commitment to change the evil ways of government.