SEE ALSO: Why's the trial in Cleveland?
By DAVID SKOLNICK
After being arraigned on numerous political corruption charges, Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino let their attorney do the talking.
While attorney Martin Yavorcik — arraigned Thursday with the other two on charges including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy, bribery, money laundering and tampering with records — let his attorney speak on his behalf, he also had something to say.
“I want the truth to come out,” said Yavorcik, speaking to the media for the first time about the May 14 indictment. “We’ve only seen one half. This is what they’re alleging. It isn’t what’s true. We’ll see what’s true in court.”
Yavorcik added: “It’s very frustrating. It’s more frustrating for my mom and dad. I’m fine with it. I’m a lawyer and this is what I do for a living. The process, I respect it. I respect this court.”
When asked if he denied any wrongdoing, Yavorcik said, “Absolutely.”
Late Thursday, the attorney general, following state law, informed the chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court that Sciortino faces felony counts related to his job as county auditor. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor must wait at least 14 days to appoint a special commission of three retired judges to consider the paid suspension of Sciortino for allegedly committing crimes in the position he currently holds.
No more than 14 days after being convened, the panel must make a preliminary decision on suspension, have a meeting with Sciortino to hear his appeal if they decide to suspend him, and then issue a final decision.
Yavorcik, McNally and Sciortino pleaded not guilty Thursday to 83 political corruption charges at a quick arraignment by Judge Pamela A. Barker in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
She set personal bond for each at $15,000. The three are not permitted to leave the state without court permission.
After the arraignment, they were processed by the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department. That includes taking mug shots and fingerprints and checking their identification.
The case was assigned to Janet R. Burnside, a Cuyahoga Common Pleas judge since 1991, who unsuccessfully ran for the Ohio Supreme Court in 2002 after winning an uncontested Democratic primary.
McNally and Sciortino are Democrats, and Yavorcik ran in 2008 for Mahoning County prosecutor as an independent and has maintained that status since.
The first pretrial hearing in front of Judge Burnside will be at 9 a.m. next Thursday.
Judge Burnside’s “litigation preferences” on the court’s website reads: “Clients [are] generally not required for pretrial or final pretrial conferences; parties may request an order requiring their attendance, however.”
The indictment accuses McNally, during his time as a Mahoning County commissioner, Sciortino and Yavorcik of being among 23 people involved in a criminal enterprise that traded money and other financial benefits for political favors, lying under oath to protect business interests, and an agreement to fix legal cases.
The other 20 haven’t been indicted, but Attorney General Mike DeWine said May 14: “We are not done.”
The indictment says the alleged criminal enterprise existed from January 2005 to January 2014, though most of it stopped in July 2009.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case with the assistance of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
While most of the alleged crimes in the indictment occurred in Mahoning County, some happened in Cuyahoga County, allowing the case to proceed in the latter location.
Lynn Maro, McNally’s attorney who doubled Thursday as Sciortino’s lawyer because the county auditor’s attorney is in a capital murder case in Mahoning County, said this case is “a test for our justice system.”
“If it works the way it’s supposed to, there should be an acquittal at the end of it,” she said.
The indictment specifically mentions an unnamed businessman’s effort to improperly use several public officials, including McNally and Sciortino, to keep the county’s Job and Family Services department at a property his company owned.
Based on information in the indictment, a previous indictment and campaign finance reports, that businessman is likely Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the former head of the Cafaro Co. retail development business.
McNally was the sole dissenter when the other county commissioners, Anthony Traficanti and David N. Ludt, voted in May 2006 in favor of relocating JFS from Cafaro’s Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side to Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
The indictment contends McNally and Sciortino conspired and received benefits for opposing the relocation. Yavorcik is accused of accepting money from the businessman, Sciortino, McNally and others, and in exchange agreed not to investigate or prosecute members of the enterprise if he were elected prosecutor in 2008, the indictment claims.
McNally, Sciortino, Cafaro and two others along with the Cafaro Co. and two of its subsidiaries were indicted in July 2010 on conspiring to stop the JFS move. Yavorcik and Flora Cafaro, Anthony’s sister and a Cafaro Co. official, also were indicted, but for money laundering for allegedly trying to conceal a $15,000 payment she made to Yavorcik’s failed 2008 campaign.
Their indictments were dismissed a year later shortly after it was learned the FBI had about 2,000 hours of surveillance tapes of at least one of the defendants in the state case and wouldn’t turn them over.
As that wouldn’t allow the defense to fully represent its clients, the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning charges could be refiled later.
“It’s hard not to be frustrated when you look at the years that have been put into this and the constant scrutiny and harassment over allegations from four years ago,” Maro said. “John McNally has always [said] he did nothing improper or illegal” related to Oakhill.
“He made that clear the first time around when we were defending these allegations,” she added.
Maro said this could be a long trial.
“Given the volume of what we’re anticipating in discovery, I can’t imagine it being a quick process,” she said. “There’s a lot of information the defense needs to process and go through.”
Jennifer Scott, Yavorcik’s attorney, said, “The clients are frustrated. Mr. Yavorcik has worked through this once before.”
Yavorcik “adamantly denies any wrongdoing,” Scott said. “He was properly running for prosecutor in Mahoning county. He filed all proper information that needed to be taken care of and doesn’t understand why they’re coming with this angle and these new charges.”