What Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine didn’t say last week about the criminal investigation of former Judge Mark Belinky is just as significant as what he did say.
DeWine, a former county prosecutor, U.S. senator and state legislator, did not say that Belinky’s resignation as Mahoning County probate judge means the book is closed on the state probe.
And, the attorney general, who is seeking a second four-year term this year, did not say that the investigation is a one-off.
Instead, he left the very clear impression that Belinky, whose resignation brought to an end his campaign for re-election, is just the tip of the iceberg.
So, what did he say?
“I really cannot, at this point, talk about the judge’s resignation or the investigation.”
Reading between the lines, there are two issues in play: Belinky’s resignation and the investigation.
Had this only been about hastening his departure from the court, Ohio’s chief lawyer would have expressed his appreciation to agents of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation for putting the fear of God in Belinky. The agents, with support from the FBI and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department, raided the office of the judge in the courthouse and his home and carted off boxes of documents, various other articles and computers.
Beyond that, a court filing indicated that Belinky could be charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.
What the charges have in common, other than to indicate that the ex-judge is in a load of trouble, is that they are all based on the activities of more than one person.
The most obvious one is bribery. State investigators certainly aren’t suggesting that Belinky bribed himself, which means that there had to be another person or persons involved.
Then there’s the money laundering, which usually means that dirty money was made clean by passing it through an intermediary.
Viewed through the prism of a wide-ranging investigation of government corruption, there’s a question that has loomed large since the search warrants were served on Belinky: Why him and why now?
The most obvious answer is that Belinky is one of the individuals detected on FBI surveillance that has resulted in 2,000 hours of wiretaps and other audio and visual surveillance. The feds have acknowledged that their investigation intersected with the state’s probe of government corruption in the Mahoning Valley.
At the center of the probe is the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal that resulted in several Mahoning County public officials and a prominent Valley businessman being charged with a variety of criminal charges.
The charges were dropped in June 2012 just as the trial was about to start because the FBI admitted that one or more of the defendants in the state case were targets of the federal government’s surveillance.
FBI agents refused to hand over the results of the 2,000 hours of surveillance.
Defense lawyers argued that the refusal prevented them from fully representing their clients, and the judge agreed. The special prosecutors in the case did not object.
LARGER CORRUPTION PROBE
Since then, the FBI has cast a huge shadow over the state’s investigation of government corruption.
A year ago, this writer published an open letter to Attorney General DeWine that said, in part: “As Ohio’s top lawyer — and former county prosecutor with an impressive record of convictions — your involvement in this case [Oakhill Renaissance] is essential.
“The state criminal charges were not dropped because the special prosecutors concluded that they had a weak case. They were forced to throw in the towel because feds revealed the existence of the surveillance and refused to turn over what they had to defense lawyers.”
It is noteworthy that Belinky was not one of the original five who were charged, but the move against him makes clear that state agents are acting on information captured in a large investigative net that has been cast.
There’s only one agency that has the ability to go so deep — the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Thus the headline: Has the FBI handed over tapes to AG?