By DAVID SKOLNICK
and JOE GORMAN
After a number of failed bids for political office, Mark Belinky finally reached his goal in November 2007 when then-Gov. Ted Strickland appointed him to fill the vacant seat in Mahoning County Probate Court.
A year after his appointment, Belinky, a Democrat, was breaking the law by “failing to disclose campaign contributions, campaign expenditures and loans that were used for campaign purposes,” according to a bill of information the former judge signed Thursday, making him a convicted felon.
Belinky, 61, of Boardman entered a guilty plea in county common pleas court to tampering with records relating to falsifying his 2008 pre-general and post-general election campaign finance reports.
The document, signed by Belinky, states he failed to disclose campaign contributions, expenditures and loans in that 2008 race.
Belinky entered his plea before Visiting Judge Ronald Suster, a retired Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge, could finish reading the charge he was pleading guilty to.
“I plead guilty,” Belinky said.
The bill of information states that Belinky failed to record more than $7,500 but less than $150,000 in contributions, expenditures or loans to his campaign fund between Oct. 23 and Dec. 10, 2008.
The document doesn’t provide any information about the conviction.
But a lawsuit and Belinky’s 2008 post-general election report may show some insight.
Mike Pallotta of Naples, Fla., filed a lawsuit Jan. 22, 2013, against Belinky who failed to pay a $20,000 loan. The money was borrowed Oct. 14, 2008, and was supposed to be repaid by the end of the year.
Pallottta didn’t return a telephone call Thursday from The Vindicator seeking comment.
Belinky gave $5,000 to his judicial campaign Oct. 23, 2008 — the first date on his bill of information — and then $15,000 a day later. His post-primary election campaign report states the money came from him.
Belinky’s campaign repaid him $1,250 on Nov. 3, 2008, and then $1,000 on Nov. 11, 2008, for the supposed personal loan.
Belinky had his paycheck garnished last year because of the $20,000 loan plus more than $7,000 interest.
Belinky beat county court Judge Scott Hunter in that general election.
A vocal government watchdog, Belinky twice failed to get elected chairman of the county Democratic Party and lost primaries in 2000 for county recorder and 2004 for county commissioner.
Belinky and his attorney, J. Gerald Ingram, along with Daniel Kasaris, a senior Assistant Ohio Attorney General, who prosecuted the case, declined to comment after the hearing.
As part of the deal struck with the attorney general’s office, the former judge is continuing to cooperate with the government.
Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, would say only the investigation is still ongoing.
Belinky’s March 14 resignation and his quitting the Democratic primary for the seat were also part of the deal. Belinky also surrendered his law license.
Belinky will be sentenced in the next six to eight weeks. The AG’s office recommended he be sentenced to community-control supervision and not prison. The final decision rests with Judge Suster.
The maximum prison sentence is 18 months.
Kasaris told the judge the state does not oppose probation as a sentence.
County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras also declined comment.
But Susan Maruca, the Democratic nominee for probate court, said Belinky’s plea “has been a long time coming. It’s especially hard on our community when a judge breaks the law.”
And it could be a while before this issue is resolved.
“I hope closure comes as soon as possible,” Maruca said.
A probable-cause affidavit detailing the reasons for the warrant served at Belinky’s home in February was ordered sealed for another 90 days this week by Judge Joseph Houser of Mahoning County Area Court in Boardman, a spokeswoman for him said.
The other warrant was issued by Youngstown Municipal Court. The judge who issued that warrant, Judge Elizabeth Kobly, has been on vacation for the last two weeks and could not be reached for comment.
Investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office, 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.
After Belinky resigned, the Ohio 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, which ends in February 2015.
Kasich, a Republican, is expected to make his decision in a few weeks.
The three finalists are Robert Rusu, Mary Ann Fabrizi and Christopher Sammarone. Maruca had sought the appointment, but a county Republican Party screening committee chose the other three.
Maruca beat Sammarone in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.
Maruca will face Rusu and Fabrizi, who are running as independents and still need to have their candidacies certified by the county board of elections, in the November general election.
Belinky has battled tax problems in the past. In 2011, the IRS placed a lien on his home for owing $32,000 in income taxes from 2008 and 2009.