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What was Sciortino thinking?

Published: Sun, May 25, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

The question above is rhetorical because Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino obviously didn’t give much thought to his television appearance on May 15 during which he declared war on Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Democrat Sciortino must have had an “Oh, [expletive]!” moment when he later saw himself on WKBN 27 and realized that he had taken on the one man who could put him behind bars.

Attorney General DeWine is heading a state prosecution team that has secured grand jury indictments against Sciortino and Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally in the so-called Oakhill Renaissance Place scandal.

The charges against McNally relate to his tenure as a Mahoning County commissioner.

Court date

Both government officials, along with a Youngstown lawyer, Martin Yavorcik, will be arraigned Thursday morning in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The reason the case is being tried in Cleveland is because Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty had determined that some of the criminal acts pertaining to the effort to derail Mahoning County’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place had occurred in his county.

McGinty asked DeWine and his staff to handle the prosecution of the case.

The 83-count indictment spells out the actions McNally, Sciortino, Yavorcik and others took to block the purchase of the former South Side Medical Center. Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt voted to buy the complex and to make it the new home of the county’s Job and Family Services, which had been located for many years in the aged McGuffey Mall.

The Cafaro Co. of Youngstown, a leading shopping center developer in the country, owned the mall.

Although he was not mentioned by name, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the company, is portrayed in the indictment as the mastermind of the conspiracy.

Cafaro, McNally, Sciortino, Yavorcik and others faced charges in 2010 in the Oakhill scandal, but special state prosecutors dropped them when the FBI refused to hand over the 2,000 hours of video and audio recordings from its surveillance of some of the defendants in the case.

DeWine, who is seeking re-election this year, has sent shockwaves through the Valley by resurrecting Oakhill.

Never in their wildest political dreams did area Democrats expect DeWine to not only reopen this highly controversial case, but to bring charges that clearly connect the dots of the criminal enterprise.

Against that backdrop, Sciortino’s verbal attack on the attorney general was simply dumb. As any criminal lawyer will tell you, it doesn’t pay to alienate the man who’s carrying the big stick.

Here’s what the county auditor said on television, speaking into the camera:

“Well, Mr. DeWine, my campaign for county auditor is a campaign against you, Mr. DeWine. Your contributions, your pay-to-play, your pay for justice in Columbus. My campaign for auditor is a campaign against you.”

Sciortino is seeking re-election this year and was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the May 6 primary. He faces Republican Bill Reese, a former Canfield Township trustee, in November.

Removal from office

However, the county auditor could be removed from his position by the Ohio Supreme Court, which will appoint a commission to review the charges and make a recommendation.

Does anyone doubt that the attorney general will have something to say about Sciortino’s fitness for office in light of the criminal indictments?

Since Sciortino is accused of committing the crimes in his capacity as county auditor, a state statute pertaining to his removal from office is applicable.

McNally, on the other hand, gets a pass because he is the mayor. He would have been targeted for removal if he were still a commissioner.

Sciortino, who spit the hook on a drunken driving charge because of a favor done for him by a high-ranking member of the sheriff’s department, may have been under the illusion that he was dealing with some local yokel.

Thus the question: Which Sciortino will show up for Thursday’s arraignment — the contrite, respectful auditor, or the mouthy James A. Traficant Jr. wannabe?

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