YOUNGSTOWN — Former Mahoning County Probate Judge Mark Belinky entered a guilty plea today to one felony count in a bill of information.
Belinky entered the plea after waiving rights to a trial, before Visiting Judge Ronald Suster in common pleas court. Suster is a retired Cuyahoga County judge.
The count contained in the bill of information relates to tampering with records, a fourth-degree felony. He admitted to falsifying his 2008 pre-general and post-general campaign finance reports as he failed to disclose campaign contributions and loans during that campaign for probate court judge. He beat county court Judge Scott Hunter in that general election race.
As part of the deal, Belinky surrendered his law license, resigned from the bench and must continue cooperating with the government.
He will be sentenced in the next six to eight weeks with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the case, recommending Belinky be sentenced to community control supervision and not in jail. That final decision rests with Judge Suster.
The value of illegal contributions taken by Belinky was between $7,500 and $150,000, and occurred between Oct 23, 2008, and Dec. 10, 2008, according to the bill of information.
Belinky and his attorney, J. Gerald Ingram, along with Senior Assistant Attorney General Daniel Kasaris, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment today.
Investigators from the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation and other law enforcement agencies served search warrants at Belinky’s Boardman home and his office at the courthouse Feb. 7.
Among the items seized were bank, tax and campaign finance records.
Affidavits explaining why investigators were serving the warrants remain sealed.
Belinky resigned from the seat March 14. The state Supreme Court appointed Visiting Judge R.R. Clunk of Alliance to hear cases in the court until Gov. John Kasich appoints someone to fill out the remainder of the term.
Belinky was appointed to the court in 2007 by former Gov. Ted Strickland to replace Judge Timothy Maloney, who retired. In 2008, Belinky won re-election, beating Struthers Municipal Judge James Lanzo and Susan Maruca in the Democratic primary and then defeating Judge Hunter in the general election.
Because of the investigation Belinky took himself out of running for re-election in the Democratic primary, won by Susan Maruca. She will face Robert Rusu and Mary Ann Fabrizi, who both filed as independents, in the general election.