Special audit of Mahoning Probate Court looks at fees not collected
A state special audit of Mahoning County Probate Court that examined 232 cases assigned to former Judge Mark Belinky found only five insufficiently documented cases, which it referred to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for further investigation.
The state auditor’s report, released today, covered the period from Nov. 1, 2007, through March 14, 2014, when Belinky resigned.
Belinky had been appointed probate judge in November 2007 by then-Gov Ted Strickland, and he resigned after Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation agents, assisted by the FBI and the county sheriff’s office, served search warrants at Belinky’s court office in Youngstown and his Boardman home.
Belinky, 64, pleaded guilty in the county common pleas court in May 2014 to tampering with records relating to falsifying his 2008 pre-general and post-general election campaign finance reports.
Belinky was placed on two years’ probation, which included 60 days of house arrest and 200 hours of community service, and fined $2,500.
The special state audit was to determine whether court fees for cases to which Belinky was assigned as a lawyer at the time of his transition to judge were waived for valid reasons.
Of the 232 cases, 24 had insufficient explanation on the court docket as to why the fees were waived, the state auditor’s office said.
After reviewing the case files, the auditors said they found documentation supporting the reasons for fee waivers in 19 of the 24 cases.
They referred only five cases with insufficient documentation of the rationale for fee waivers to the AG’s office for possible further action.
“These (five) cases appeared to have assets available, which could have been used to pay the fees,” the auditor’s report said.
The audit was conducted after the AG’s office and BCI requested assistance with the criminal probe of the probate court.
Judge Robert Rusu, the current probate judge, said all 232 cases belonged to Belinky as a lawyer before he became judge.
“Of those 232, some of them, he issued final orders or disposed of after he became judge,” Judge Rusu said.
“My staff and I have been cooperating with the AG’s office from the beginning and will continue to do so in the future should they need anything further,” Judge Rusu said.