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In his five years as chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, David Betras has mastered the

Published: Sun, March 16, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

In his five years as chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, David Betras has mastered the art of the political dodge — in dealing with the unending scandals involving members of his party. Betras has learned to weigh his words carefully, as he did when former county Treasurer Lisa Antonini, who had also served as party chair, pleaded guilty to accepting a $3,000 bribe.

Not only was Antonini considered a good and faithful Democrat, but the individual who bribed her has been a long-time good and faithful financial supporter of the Democratic Party. And, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. is a prominent businessman in the Mahoning Valley.

So, when Antonini went off to federal prison for two months after her conviction in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, Betras was anything but judgmental. In fact, he expressed sympathy for the former chairwoman.

As for Cafaro, his name barely passed Betras’ lips insofar as his corruption of government was concerned.

Independent investigation

Likewise, the party chairman rose up in support of county Auditor Michael Sciortino, another good and faithful Democrat, whose brush with the law prompted an independent investigation.

Sciortino had been arrested and then unarrested on a potential drunken-driving charge but rather than condemn the officeholder and drum him out of the party, Betras contended that the intervention of a sheriff’s office commander, Thomas Assion, on behalf of Sciortino was just a show of friendship.

It should be noted that the party chairman is a criminal lawyer.

At the scene of the DUI stop, Assion suggested to the arresting officer, Sgt. James Touville, that he not arrest Sciortino for drunken driving, and instead cite him for a lane violation. The commander drove Sciortino home in the auditor’s car, thus saving his friend from what could have been a DUI conviction. Sciortino had failed the initial field-sobriety test.

The county auditor is a lawyer, and Betras was asked whether, as an officer of the court, Sciortino had a responsibility to reject Assion’s intervention and insist that the arrest be completed.

The Democratic Party chairman dismissed the question as ridiculous.

But last week, lo and behold, Betras had a “Come To Jesus” (CTJ) moment. The reason for his rhetorical indignation was former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone’s $4,000 campaign contribution — in cash — to DeMaine Kitchen, an independent candidate for mayor in last November’s general election.

Kitchen, a Democrat, had the temerity to run against the Democratic Party’s nominee for mayor, John A. McNally.

“It is quite simply undeniable that the transfer of cash from donors to candidates carries with it the stench of corruption, influence-peddling and back-room dealing that has plagued our community for far too long,” Betras said of the Sammarone- Kitchen cash transaction.

First-degree misdemeanor

But the chairman didn’t stop there. He called on members of the Valley’s state legislative delegation to amend current law to make cash contributions of more than $100 a first-degree misdemeanor.

Those found guilty would be fined up to $10,000 and be required to forfeit the nomination or the office to which the offender was elected, or both.

But as Betras was pontificating about the series of campaign-finance violations involving cash that undermine the “public’s trust in both our electoral system and local government,” this question came to mind: Would the chairman have been as put out had Sammarone given the $4,000 in cash to McNally, the Democratic nominee?

The contribution would have made the former mayor a good and faithful Democrat, right?

The problem Betras has is one of perception. Will he dump his new-found religion the next time a Democrat in good standing ends up in trouble with the law.

Betras knows that government corruption does not occur in a vacuum. To be sure, there are officeholders and other public employees who are willing to sell their souls for so many nickles (they do come cheap in the Valley.) But, the buyers of those souls are just as guilty. Whither Chairman Betras?

*Come To Jesus


1rickking123(292 comments)posted 6 months ago

Nothing to read here, now just move along.....

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2formerdemliberal(182 comments)posted 6 months ago

Cliff Notes version of Bert's diatribe:
David Betras = Hypocrite

Dave conveniently fails to mention any dollar curbs on organizational political donations, i.e., union cronies. His legal solution appears to be another method to stifle grassroots efforts by candidates who would dare to run against the "machine". Those "change" candidates would likely be more dependent on individual donors to fund their election expenses than candidates endorsed by the Democratic Party who's financial coffers are flooded by money flowing in from big labor dues.

I believe that Dave knows that his legal proposal has zero chance of becoming law in the state legislature, could be viewed as an infringement of free speech, and is just political posturing for naive local voters.

If Dave really wanted to put some teeth into his proposal, change the party by-laws ASAP to immediately withhold future party support for any previously-endorsed Democratic officeholder found to have accepted individual political donations over $100 in past elections. These outcasts would be denied the opportunity for the financial and publicity support that goes along with future party endorsements.

Of course, that kind of party rule would likely push substantial political funding even further under the table, just the opposite of what Betras supposedly so strongly opposes.

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3Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 6 months ago

The real problem is that while elections are being fixed, brown bags of cash are still being passed around and Betras strokes his ego, our community stands still and must endure people in public office that can’t see beyond there noses or PERS statements.

So it’s ironic that you continue to ask the people involved in the corruption to stop it. I want to remind you that Mr. high and mighty, Chairman Betras, was investigated himself for misuse of the transition funds when he was the treasurer for Marc Dann. His supposed outrage is nothing more than an act, and he knows there’s no chance of passing any new law in Columbus, but he did get you guys to report it and that was his real goal.

Until the local media gets some skin in the game nothing is going to change. There certainly are plenty of wackobirds with their conspiracy theories in the valley. But there are also many who want change but can’t get past what Betras and others have labeled them. Many people knew about the probate court and tried to pass that information on, but were ignored by the local media. Real investigative journalism is needed so that someone as corrupt as Belinky never makes it into office, and David Betras never becomes chairman. If the media can’t or won’t, then just stop complaining because you are as much of the problem as anyone.

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4author50(1121 comments)posted 6 months ago

I really thought that BDS would have demanded a 'stop the presses' moment and ordered this column (or is it really notes from a BDS chat around the office water cooler?) rescinded, and a column titled "The Rise and Fall of Mark Belinky" be written.

BTW BDS: Lisa got in trouble FOR NOT reporting a $3,000.00 cash contribution. Plenty of people have taken a lot more taxpayers money and you have not written about it, (now I know 'Lovethiscity' will bash me for this). But what about Chris Sammarone -- the attorney for the MRDD letting Why a Duck quack off with $110,000, as well a candidate for Probate Court Judge receiving $20,000.00 in taxpayers money to open up a bar named Dooney's that his father, the aforementioned Chuck Sammarone (he of the infamous $4,000.00 "CTJ moment for David Betras") who as Mayor of Youngstown and the head of the Board of Control voted for the money going to his son? Furthermore, the bar failed and the $20,000.00 wasn't repaid to the taxpayers, yet Chris became partners (along with his daddy's lawyer, and his partner Brian Ridder) in a new bar named Warehouse 50 and yet the money is still unpaid! Last time I checked $20,000.00 in freebie money is a lot worse than $3,000.00.

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5lovethiscity(147 comments)posted 6 months ago

Hey....just finished my research and want to revel who is UticaShale.

It's Ron Eiselstein with a 100 percent certainty. Yep...the research was that good Ron.

So to all of you that have suffered this pretentious idiot's "slings and arrows" on this Board....

time to "fire back" at our little "nuclear missile technician". LOL

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6Knightcap(697 comments)posted 6 months ago

What I find amusing is the passionate support of the democrat party here. With all the decades of corruption the disgusting party can do no wrong. When people vote here they are handed a ticket with checkmarks after the democrat candidates name. They take that ticket into the booth and their mind is programed to follow and vote that list top to bottom. People no longer travel to Zombie land in Hillsville Pa. They come to the Mahoning Valley to find zombies.

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7gdog4766(1491 comments)posted 6 months ago

Yeah Knightcap, because let's see what the repubs have done nationally. Let's see historically under every prez since DDE the stockmarket plummets and unemployment skyrockets. I know,I know using facts and truth is kinda playing dirty but hey. The ten poorest states in the country right now are red,right to work states. Even the poorest county in the whole country is predominately republican. Kinda seeing a pattern here.

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8Knightcap(697 comments)posted 6 months ago

Yeah gdog, you're one of the "Night of the Living Dead" I'm talking about in post #6. How long have you lived here? How many democrats have been accepting bribes? How many indicted? How many off to jail? WTF! Wake up! Nothing has changed in decades here!

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9gdog4766(1491 comments)posted 6 months ago

You'd give Fred Astaire a run for his money. Tap dance around anything you can't refute, never directly address it. Remember that jeep plant Romney said Obama was selling to China. It just announced a major expansion with hundreds of added jobs in Ohio. Facts and truth are to republicans like light and garlic are to vampires.

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10Knightcap(697 comments)posted 6 months ago

Nothing to refute. The article is about local dems, bribes, cash contributions, drunk driving and corruption. Didn't read anything about repubs here. Maybe you should write a column so we could comment on it.

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11ytownboy22(65 comments)posted 6 months ago

Said it before and will say it again; Bertram is missing his calling. If it is the big whales he wants to catch, he should go to Columbus and witness the way the money changes hands at the Ohio Statehouse, especially by, between and amongst Repubs, who run the asylum after all. By committing himself to penny ante matters, Bert is missing out on the Pulitzer that surely awaits him. Doesn't he ever tire of beating the same ole' drum?

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12Repubs4theRich(124 comments)posted 6 months ago

This article is about putting Betras' name in a headline so it will get many hits or comments. The Vindy can't go 5 days without an article with his name in it. Period.

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13ysuforever(57 comments)posted 6 months ago

Who was the only county chairman to get a shout out at the Ohio Dems Legacy dinner last Saturday ,that's right the one and only David Betras.While Democratic officeholders and candidates throughout the Buckeye state wish that Betras was their chair,he suffers slings and arrows from Bert and posters who are the only Repubs left in the valley.Betras will certainly be asked to be the next State chair if Redfern steps down ,unless Tress turns down the YSU job and the trustees turn to David to save our university

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14Joe6pack(52 comments)posted 6 months ago

@ysuforever you are either Dave Betras or delusional.

The ONLY reason he gets a "shout out" is he continues to send OUR money to Columbus.

No one in the state party "wishes" they had Betras as their chairman. They have had plenty of chances to vote him into different positions and he has been crushed by other people when the votes were counted.

In fact, no one wants Betras running anything, and most of our precinct committeemen will vote him out if someone of substance steps up.

If David Betras is the savior to YSU the university has no future.

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