One of the Mahoning Valley’s infamous sons hobnobbed with the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, on Feb. 4. But rather than receive verbal bouquets from the national press, the Valley resident was held up to ridicule.
But that isn’t unusual for J.J. Cafaro, the retired executive vice president of the locally based Cafaro Co., one of the leading shopping- center developers in the country.
Here’s the headline that appeared in the Feb. 6 edition of the Miami Herald:
“Trump partied with convicted felon at Red Cross ball”.
And these are the opening paragraphs of the column by Jose Lambiet:
“While protesters stood outside his Mar-a-Lago club Saturday night in Palm Beach, tuxedo-clad President Donald Trump and first lady Melania were being entertained by the organizers of the Red Cross Ball. And among those cozying up to the world’s most powerful man was a convicted felon named J.J. Cafaro.
“His crime? Bribery of a public official.
“We wish this were fake news, but the truth is so much stranger sometimes.
“Mall developer Cafaro’s wife Janet, who lives in a $20 million mansion down the street from the club, chaired Saturday’s event, officially named The Diamond Centennial Red Cross Ball.”
After laying out details of the event and the role of the chairwoman, Lambiet had this to say about Trump being around Cafaro:
“Even if by any presidential standards, J.J. Cafaro might not be the kind of guy he should hang out with.”
But it isn’t the first time the Cafaro-Trump connection has been publicly noted.
A year ago, this writer’s column featured the headline, “Trump’s Valley pal”. The piece had to do with the then-Republican candidate for president hosting a fund-raising event for veterans through his charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
During the televised event, Trump went off script and began reciting the names of his wealthy friends who had pledged money for the charity.
On the list: “J.J. Cafaro of Palm Beach and Cleveland (sic), $50,000.” The billionaire real estate developer from New York City rewarded Cafaro with a public juicy kiss when he called him a “fantastic man” who had been a great success in business in Cleveland.
The reference to Cleveland was odd, but there was no doubt Trump was talking about a member of a very prominent, rich family from the Mahoning Valley.
Sadly, once again, Cafaro’s criminal past came back to haunt him. Here’s what the Huffington Post said:
“Donald Trump collected almost $5 million Thursday from a motley crew of casino owners, business partners and at least one felon.”
The column in this space published Feb. 21, 2016, portrayed the Huffington Post’s reference to Cafaro thus:
“Here’s how the reporter delivered the crippling blow to J.J.’s family jewels ...”
The Huffington Post piece contained this doozie:
“What Trump didn’t mention is that Cafaro pleaded guilty two different times in federal court to charges related to illegal campaign donations. In 2002, Cafaro pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe then-Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), part of a deal Cafaro made to avoid jail time. Six years later, he again pleaded guilty to a campaign-related offense – this time, failing to disclose a $10,000 loan he’d made to his daughter’s failed bid for a seat in Congress.’”
J.J. and Janet Cafaro are well known in Palm Beach society and, in fact, last year hosted an elegant dinner reception on the night before the International Red Cross Ball. The dinner was in honor of the ambassadors attending the soiree, including those from Afghanistan, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Greece and Japan.
Given that J.J.’s criminal history is part of his public persona when he hobnobs with other rich and famous – and infamous – individuals, it’s clear that the negative publicity doesn’t faze him.
Unfortunately, his deep family roots in the Mahoning Valley mean that constant references to his criminal record serve to remind the nation of this region’s long history of public corruption – especially bribery of elected officials and organized crime activities.
Indeed, the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy is a case study of how easily officeholders and others in local government are willing to sell their souls for a few pieces of silver from the rich and famous.
The mastermind of the Oakhill conspiracy was Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., retired president of the Cafaro Co. and J.J.’s older brother.
The goal was to derail the purchase by Mahoning County commissioners of Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former South Side Medical Center. Two commissioners at the time, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, were in favor, but the third commissioner, John A. McNally, was opposed. McNally, now the mayor of Youngstown seeking re-election this year, was part of the Cafaro-led conspiracy. He pleaded guilty for his role and now has a criminal record.
The Cafaro brothers and their late sister, Flora, were implicated in the case, but were not charged.
In addition to McNally, former county Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik were also convicted on criminal charges.
Although Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has said that the Oakhill case is now closed, law-abiding area residents have been wondering if the federal government was still looking into it. The FBI conducted the initial investigation at the request of the Ohio Ethics Commission. The evidence uncovered resulted in criminal charges being filed.
Thus the question: Will the Trump Justice Department take a look at the criminal conspiracy that is the Oakhill Renaissance scandal?”
The answer is now clear: NO.
President Trump isn’t going to let federal government lawyers go after his pal J.J. Cafaro and brother, Anthony.
Trump’s election was the final nail in the Oakhill Renaissance coffin.
It does pay to have a friend in the highest place in the world: The White House.