By DAVID SKOLNICK
A prosecutor said Martin Yavorcik’s sentence of five years of probation for eight felonies with no prison time “is inconsistent with other cases involving attorneys convicted of corruption offenses and sends the wrong message.”
Matthew E. Meyer, a Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor and among three attorneys who prosecuted Yavorcik, also said, “In this case, we pushed back against an attempt to rig the system in favor of the powerful and the wealthy. We are concerned about the impact of this sentence on future Martin Yavorciks who might try to turn the office of prosecuting attorney into an auction house for their powerful friends.”
Judge Janet R. Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court chose not to sentence Yavorcik to prison Friday after a jury found him guilty March 25 of eight felonies – one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy and tampering with records, two counts of money laundering and three counts of bribery.
She merged the conspiracy count Friday into the corruption conviction, which she said she’d do after Yavorick was found guilty.
After the sentencing, Yavorcik, an attorney who defended himself, admitted he was surprised.
For his first year of probation, Yavorcik will be on house arrest. Judge Burnside also ordered him to do 200 hours of community service, get alcohol-abuse treatment, and pay a court cost of $1,846, which were the travel expenses for Leigh Bayer, an assistant attorney general based in Columbus who also prosecuted Yavorcik.
If Yavorcik, a failed 2008 independent Mahoning County prosecutor candidate, violates the terms of his probation, which includes avoiding alcohol, he could be sent to prison for up to seven years.
Yavorcik will also surrender his law license, and can never hold a public-sector job.
Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Yavorcik to five to nine years in prison with a $20,000 fine.
“This sentence demeans the seriousness of the crimes committed by Mr. Yavorcik,” Meyer said.
Dan Kasaris, a senior assistant AG and the trial’s lead prosecutor, said Yavorcik continues to lack remorse for his crimes.
Kasaris, born and raised in Mahoning County, said, “Anywhere you go in Ohio and tell people you’re from Youngstown, they snicker at you because of the corruption.”
He urged Judge Burnside to sentence Yavorcik to prison to “put some faith back in” Mahoning County.
Yavorcik asked for probation, insisting, “I haven’t committed a crime whatsoever.”
Judge Burnside said she had “grave difficulties sending a 42-year-old former lawyer in court for his first crime, for the first time, to prison.”
She also said, “I highly question what benefit it would be to the taxpayers of any county of this state to pay for a prison bed for Mr. Yavorcik.”
Yavorcik said he’ll appeal his convictions while prosecutors intend to appeal the sentence.
“We expect to prevail because a first-degree felony count carries a presumption of prison,” Meyer said. “Prison is especially important in a public-corruption case.”
Yavorcik admitted in a Monday court filing he has a drinking problem.
After the sentencing, he told reporters, “I think that the judge realized I’m not just a throwaway; that I have some good qualities and that I need help.”
Yavorcik also said, “I think that her giving me a chance, I’ll be able to show to her that I’ll never be back in this court, any court, as a criminal defendant on probation violators. I will abide by everything she told me to do.”
While not going to prison, Yavorcik said that he’s been punished by having his law practice “destroyed,” declaring bankruptcy, and having to live in the Mahoning Valley with the stigma of being indicted and then a convicted felon.
“One of the hardest things was being under indictment and going to court to represent people and knowing that the other lawyers and judges were looking at you like ‘Well you know this guy is under indictment,’” Yavorcik said. “It weighs on you.”
He said he stopped going to a Starbucks near his Boardman home because people were staring at him.
While not admitting guilt, Yavorcik said, “I made some dumb decisions.”
Yavorcik said when he heard secretly recordings of himself, “I was drunk on those tapes. I’m ashamed listening to that, but I’m going to move forward.”
He added: “My biggest problem has always been my ego. I said that in court. I’m not proud of that.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Vindicator: “Our prosecutor felt prison was appropriate and still does. The sentence [for Yavorcik] won’t stop me from vigorously prosecuting public-corruption cases in the future.”
He added: “People who are committing public corruption need to know this particular sentence won’t deter us from going after them. People should not read too much into this sentence.”
Yavorcik is the third person found guilty in connection with the Oakhill Renaissance Place corruption scandal.
Prosecutors alleged a conspiracy started in 2006 to impede the move of Mahoning County’s Department of Job and Family Services from a Cafaro Co.-owned property on Youngstown’s East Side to the county-owned Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
Yavorcik joined the conspiracy in 2008 when he ran for prosecutor. The jury convicted Yavorcik for illegally taking about $140,000 in bribes to kill the Oakhill investigation if he was elected. He lost that election by 38 percentage points to incumbent Democrat Paul J. Gains.
Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, in his previous capacity as a Mahoning County commissioner, and ex-county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, both Democrats, took plea deals in the Oakhill case and were each sentenced to a year’s probation.
During Yavorcik’s trial, FBI special agent Deane Hassman said Anthony Cafaro Sr., the former president of his family-owned company, remains under investigation.
Kasaris said Friday before Yavorcik’s trial he offered him a deal to plead guilty to a fourth-degree felony and two misdemeanors, which Yavorcik rejected. During the trial, another deal was offered to Yavorcik except the felony would be third degree.
“He laughed in my face and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” Kasaris said. “He’s a truly remorseless man.”
Judge Burnside said she was present for the latter offer and Yavorcik didn’t laugh in Kasaris’ face.
Yavorcik said, “I was open to a plea agreement, but we couldn’t come to terms.”
David Betras, Mahoning County Democratic Party chairman and an attorney, said, “Marty Yavorcik got a very, very big break; no doubt about it.” Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity “is the most-serious felony you can be convicted of that’s not drug or violence related.”
Betras said there’s a “big push across Ohio and the country to not incarcerate nonviolent white-collar criminals,” which kept Yavorcik out of prison.
When asked about that, DeWine spoke in general terms: “Society generally looks at violent criminals as people who need to be locked up. However, public corruption is something that the public is also very concerned about. Jail or prison time can certainly be appropriate for public corruption.”
Betras said: “If I’m critical of anything it’s that I don’t know how the prosecutors agreed to give probation to the public officials [McNally and Sciortino] and [wanted prison] for the patsy,” meaning Yavorcik.
In court, Meyer said prosecutors were “not happy we had to make deals” with McNally and Sciortino.
Meyer said Yavorcik’s crimes were worse than McNally and Sciortino because they were already opposed to buying Oakhill, and Yavorcik joined the conspiracy “purely for personal gain.”
Before sentencing, Gains addressed the judge saying the Mahoning Valley’s reputation for public corruption is unfortunately a reality, and none of the people convicted in the Oakhill scandal have accepted responsibility.
“I have more respect for Lenny Strollo than I do for these people,” Gains said.
Strollo was the head of the Mafia in the Mahoning Valley who ordered Gains be killed in late 1996 to make sure he never served as prosecutor. Gains was shot in his home on Christmas Eve by a hit man, but survived.
When addressing the judge, Gains said he was “aghast and appalled” at statements McNally and Sciortino made during their March 28 sentencing.
“I’m sorry I’m a little angry,” Gains said.
Judge Burnside said she understood and that Sciortino was “arrogant” for saying he did the right thing by trying to stop the Oakhill purchase.
The judge also said to Gains that McNally, Sciortino and their allies “made you the fall guy.”
Gains urged Judge Burnside to send Yavorcik to prison.
“Somebody has to pay the price,” Gains said. “There has to be a deterrent.”
The judge didn’t say anything. She later declined to send Yavorcik to prison.