Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino was surprised and proclaimed his belief in his innocence when a Vindicator reporter told him he’d been re-indicted in the Oakhill Renaissance Place matter.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of that. I have not heard from anybody. Wow. I’ve been hearing the past couple of years they’re going to bring it back. I don’t know what to think,” he said at mid-morning on Wednesday.
“From the bottom of my heart, I really believe I didn’t do anything wrong,” he added.
During the afternoon, Sciortino sent a “stay strong” motivational text message to his staff.
“By now, I am sure you have all heard the rumors and allegations relating to me, Mayor [John A.] McNally, and all the Oakhill issues,” he wrote.
“Please do not let these baseless claims come between you and all of the good work we do for the taxpayers on a daily basis. You all are the best! Believe in yourself!” Sciortino wrote.
“I love all of you. Please hold your heads high! We will prevail,” he concluded.
McNally, a former Mahoning County commissioner and now mayor of Youngstown, and Sciortino were among those indicted by a Mahoning County grand jury in 2010 in an alleged criminal conspiracy to impede the move of the county’s Department of Job and Family Services from rented quarters on the city’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place.
Oakhill, which the county bought in 2006 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for use as a county office complex, is the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center. JFS moved to Oakhill in 2007.
The third defendant in Wednesday’s indictment, Atty. Martin Yavorcik, who was charged with money laundering in the 2010 indictment, could not be reached to comment.
Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., former president of the Cafaro Co., and the company itself, which was the landlord for JFS’ East Side quarters in Garland Plaza, were initially charged with conspiracy in the 2010 indictment, but he and his company were not charged or mentioned by name in Wednesday’s Cuyahoga County grand jury indictment.
State special prosecutors said they were forced to dismiss the 2010 indictment because they were unable to obtain tapes from the FBI, which they said they’d have to share with the defense.
Visiting Judge William H. Wolff Jr. of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court dismissed the case in July 2011, without prejudice, meaning it could be re-filed at a later date.
“Because it [the indictment] has not charged our organization or anyone within our organization with any crime, we really don’t have anything to say about it,” said Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the Cafaro Co.
“Our attorneys have not had a chance to see or digest the document,” he said of the indictment.
At the Wednesday news conference in Cleveland, where he announced the new indictment, Ohio Attorney General Mike De- Wine said the felony counts against Sciortino compel him to ask Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor to create a commission to temporarily remove Sciortino as county auditor.
DeWine said Sciortino, however, wouldn’t be barred from his November bid for re-election.
County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains and Atty. David Betras, county Democratic Party chairman, said they had not researched the law and did not know who would select Sciortino’s temporary replacement if the top court commission temporarily removes him from office.
“They’re innocent until proven guilty,” county Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said of the defendants in Wednesday’s indictment. “It’s a sad day,” he said, adding that his “prayers go out” to the families of the defendants.
If the county commissioners would be involved in selecting a temporary replacement for Sciortino, Traficanti said they’d consult Gains, who would likely seek an opinion from DeWine or DeWine’s staff as to how to proceed.
“It would have to be somebody who was more than qualified because of the importance of that office,” Traficanti said of any interim auditor.