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AG DeWine sets sights on Cafaro

Published: Sun, May 18, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

To all those apologists for the corrupters of government in the Mahoning Valley who have accused this writer of beating a dead horse — the Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal — “Neigh! Neigh! Neigh!” (or “eHeeHee” if you’re in a jovial mood.) The horse is very much alive.

In fact, if you paid close attention to Saturday’s Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore, you would have seen “Oakhill Corruption” coming up the rear fast — with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on board.

The state’s chief lawyer is riding hard with his eyes on the prize: Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Youngstown-based Cafaro Co., one of the nation’s leading shopping center developers.

No, DeWine has not publicly named Cafaro as the ultimate target of the reopened Oakhill Renaissance corruption case, but there’s no mistaking the identity of “Businessman 1” contained in the 67-page, 83-count criminal indictment returned last week by a Cuyahoga County grand jury.

The indictment of Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and Atty. Martin Yavorcik on a slew of charges, including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, bribery, perjury and money laundering, is the opening salvo.

Memory lane

A year ago, the column in this space carried the following headline: “Will AG DeWine take action?” It began thusly:

“Dear Mr. Attorney General:

“Dare it be said? Mahoning County needs ‘DeWine intervention’ (Come on, it’s Easter). Seriously, though, it has been about nine months since the state was forced to drop criminal charges against several public officials and a prominent businessman because the federal government refused to hand over the results of 2,000 hours of wiretaps and other audio and visual surveillance. The feds have acknowledged that their investigation intersects with the state’s probe of government corruption in Mahoning County.

“There were unconfirmed reports of a federal grand jury in Cleveland preparing indictments to be handed down this month. But we enter April with no action on the part of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“Hence, this letter to you.

“As Ohio’s top lawyer — and a former county prosecutor with an impressive record of convictions — your involvement in this case 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 the feds revealed the existence of the surveillance and refused to turn over what they had to defense lawyers.”

The March 31, 2013, column concluded with this:

“The time has come to close the book on our sordid history.

“Attorney General DeWine, there is another compelling reason for you to evaluate this case: Former Commissioner McNally could well win the mayoral race. It will not serve the city well if he has a dark cloud hanging over his head.”

Last week’s indictment of McNally et al was the shot across the government- corruption bow.

But, make no mistake about it: the mayor, the county auditor and the local lawyer are the puppets in the Oakhill Renaissance Place drama. The indictment, which makes no attempt to hide the ultimate goal, establishes “Businessman 1” as the Puppet master. He pulled the strings and Mahoning County government officials and others danced. As an aside, the indictment confirms what this writer has long contended: Our government officials can be bought for peanuts.

So, what prompted Attorney General DeWine to act? It’s safe to speculate, as was done in a column on March 23, that the FBI did hand over the tapes or the transcripts of the surveillance.

Minor misstep

While DeWine is deserving of the appreciation and the support of all honest Mahoning Valley residents, he had one minor misstep last week: He began his presentation to the press by saying it’s always a “sad day” when officeholders are caught up in a criminal investigation.

No, Mr. Attorney General, it isn’t a sad day for the Valley; it’s a day for celebration. We, in this region, have had to live with corrupt politicians and those who have no qualms about corrupting them for far too long.

We have your back, sir.

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