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The Macejko annals

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, January 8, 2017

When Poland Village Mayor Tim Sicafuse and members of village council decided to hire Atty. Jay Macejko as solicitor, they shrugged off his widely publicized fall from grace.

Indeed, in largely ignoring Macejko’s past, Sicafuse and lawmakers deprived themselves of a trove of juicy information about him.

For instance, had they gone into The Vindicator’s online archives on Vindy.com, they would have come across a column published in this space that was great fun to write.

It ran on Jan. 15, 2012, with this headline: ‘Did he just call me a drunk?’

Here’s what it said, in part:

“During a candidate forum in Boardman hosted by the Fraternal Order of Police, Youngstown City Prosecutor Jay Macejko tossed out a comment about the man he hopes to unseat, county Prosecutor Paul Gains, which brought an audible gasp from the audience.

“The comment was so inflammatory that it demands proof from Macejko. If the city prosecutor does not have the evidence, then he should publicly apologize to Gains.

“It was while he was addressing the gathering at the FOP forum that Macejko apparently decided to go for broke. He was articulating the differences between him and Gains and detailing how he would operate the office differently when he said he would show up for work every day and that he would be ‘sober.’

“Gains, who was in the audience, turned to Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras and asked, ‘Did he just call me a drunk?’

“Betras replied: ‘It sounded like it.’

“The reaction of the crowd must have felt like a blast of cold air to Macejko, because he quickly dropped the line of attack.”

TV interview

Several days after the column was published, WFMJ-Channel 21 Reporter Glenn Stevens interviewed Macejko about his comment and this is how the city prosecutor spun it:

“When the statement was made at the FOP candidates forum, I was talking about working hard and clearly seeing your way to justice. I don’t know why people took it the way they did, but they did and since then it certainly has been used in an inflammatory manner.”

It is noteworthy that before glomming onto Youngstown’s payroll, Macejko worked for Gains as an assistant prosecutor.

So, how did Betras react to Macejko’s spin? He told WFMJ’s Stevens that he was “satisfied with his explanation.”

Why did Betras flip-flop? Because Macejko was the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate.

Even so, Gains won re-election.

Just months later, in April 2012, Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone fired Macejko as city prosecutor after an independent investigation found overwhelming evidence of his lack of judgment as a manager.

“The actions displayed in the prosecutor’s office do not meet my standards,” Sammarone said when he announced his decision.

So, what prompted the fall from grace?

Several things, including an exchange of mobile text phone messages with an assistant prosecutor, Bret Hartup. Among the messages was one that was blatantly racist pertaining to President Barack Obama: “I just received my Obama stimulus package. It was 3 pieces of chicken, a pack of Kool-aid and a dime bag. Did u get yours?”

The text was contained in a log of messages from Hartup’s cellphone that the assistant prosecutor handed over to a federal judge who was presiding over a religious discrimination case filed by another assistant prosecutor, Bassil Ally. The defendants in the Ally case were Macejko, former Mayor Jay Williams, former Law Director Iris Guglicello and the city of Youngstown.

The lawsuit was concluded after the city confessed judgment, which means it admitted to the truth of the allegations spelled out in the complaint. Despite Macejko’s denial of wrongdoing, the city admitted that he did the things the complaint alleged.

In the judgment, Youngs-town was ordered to pay $110,000 to Ally, and to give him a $4,000 salary increase. In addition, Macejko wrote a letter of apology to his assistant prosecutor.

It should be instructive to Poland Village officials that county Prosecutor Gains had called for Macejko’s firing after the details of his behavior became public.

So what happened to Macejko after he was publicly disgraced? Did he disappear into the night, never to been seen again? Of course not.

In the grand tradition of other prominent public figures who have displayed no remorse for bringing shame upon themselves and their families, Macejko kept grabbing for the brass ring – government employment.

In 2015, he represented then-Campbell mayoral candidate Nicholas Phillips, who had been charged with felonious assault. The 22-year-old boyfriend of Phillips’ wife’s daughter accused Phillips of punching him in the face and breaking his jaw.

Phillips said he acted in self-defense and intervened when the boyfriend attempted to push Phillips’ wife.

“I think the investigation was incomplete and slanted,” Macejko said shortly after his client’s arraignment.

The case was bound over to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, where Phillips pleaded to a misdemeanor. He had been charged with a felony.

Phillips won the mayor’s race in 2015 and after he was sworn in hired Macejko as director of administration for the city.

Macejko was required to establish residency in Campbell within six months, but he chose to give up the position rather than relocate.

Once again, it turned out that his absence from the public payroll was temporary.

After Poland Village’s solicitor, Anthony D’Apolito, won the November general election for Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, Macejko made it known to village officials that he was interested in the position.

His prospects of being hired increased when D’Apolito supported him.

Mayor Sicafuse told The Vindicator that he also talked to police Chief Russell Beatty and other people about Macejko and concluded there was no reason to disqualify him.

Sicafuse did concede to Vindicator Reporter Bruce Walton that he did not conduct a deep background check and was not influenced by what had occurred in the city of Youngstown.

Likewise, members of council accepted the mayor’s recommendation. They did meet in private prior to the swearing-in ceremony conducted by Judge D’Apolito and were satisfied with the explanation they got from Macejko about his stint in Youngstown.

Why would Macejko go after a government job and in the process turn the spotlight on his past? For the same reason that Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, who has a criminal record, is seeking re-election this year: Public pension, baby.