Ex-Judge Belinky’s guilty plea should set the stage for others

Mark Belinky did not resign from the all-important position of Mahoning County Probate judge just because he violated campaign-finance laws. The Belinky we’ve known for many years would have risen up in all his arrogance and challenged state investigators to “take your best shot” — in the words of this region’s most famous criminal, former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. — if that’s all they had against him.

No, Belinky resigned because agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation appear to have a litany of criminal charges they’re prepared to file against him if he doesn’t cooperate with them in their wide-ranging investigation of government corruption.

It will be recalled that after the then judge’s office in the courthouse and his home in Boardman were searched by the BCI agents, with the assistance of the FBI the sheriff’s department, a court document became public that laid out possible charges against him. They are engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.

The tampering with records charge, to which he pleaded guilty last week, relates to his falsifying his 2008 pre- and post-election campaign finance reports. He won the primary that year, defeating Struthers Municipal Judge James Lanzo and Atty. Susan Maruca, who succeeded Tuesday in winning the Democratic nomination for probate judge. In the 2008 general election, Belinky defeated County Court Judge Scott Hunter, a Republican.

Low-level felony

By pleading guilty to a low-level felony charge — visiting Judge Ronald Suster presided over the case — Belinky has avoided serious jail time. Indeed, he could walk away with probation and a fine.

For that, he had better provide state and federal investigators with dynamite information that will cause his partners-in-crime to be led away in handcuffs.

Indeed, if the potential bribery charge stems from his receiving money from individuals in the private sector who have no qualms about lining the pockets of corrupt officials, we, the people, have right to know who they are.

For too long, we have watched as immoral public officials are called to account for their criminal behavior, while those who corrupted them continue to live free.

It is noteworthy that the day Belinky stood before Judge Suster there was another story of equal significance: former county treasurer-turned-federal inmate Lisa Antonini is now a resident of the Community Corrections Association facility on Market Street in Youngstown where she is serving the final month of a five-month sentence.

Antonini pleaded guilty to accepting a $3,000 bribe from a prominent Valley businessman (The Vindicator has determined it is Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co.) to do his bidding.

U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi gave Antonini a tap on the wrist after federal prosecutors said the disgraced officeholder had been extremely cooperative in their ongoing investigation of government corruption.

Person-of-interest list

Now that she’s on the verge of being released, the law-abiding residents of the Mahoning Valley have a right to know what information she provided and whose names are on the federal government’s person-of-interest list.

Silence isn’t golden when it comes to government corruption in the Mahoning Valley.

Belinky had better be giving the BCI information that will result in convictions of others; likewise, Antonini’s emergence from prison should prompt Judge Lioi to ask federal prosecutors, “Who’s next?”

Government corruption does not occur in a vacuum.

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