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Power behind throne probed

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, July 9, 2017

No, the headline is not meant to suggest that Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich underwent a proctology examination last week. But it will sure feel like it if he ends up being a prime target of the state investigation into development projects downtown.

Bozanich, the power behind the throne in City Hall for a very long time, had his home searched Thursday by officials of the Ohio Auditor’s Office and Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Mahoning County Sheriff’s deputies assisted in the execution of the search warrants.

Items were seized from Bozanich’s home in Boardman, just as they were from other locations: the Canfield law office of Atty. Stephen Garea; the Boardman residence of Panzy Eldridge, Bozanich’s girlfriend; and, the Canfield residence of Atty. Garea.

No one in a position of authority will provide any insight into what’s going on, but it isn’t a stretch to conclude that last week’s action is tied to the state probe of developer Dominic J. Marchionda, whose NYO Property Group has several major development projects in downtown Youngstown.

In March, state investigators seized records at NYO offices downtown and at Marchionda’s home in Poland.

Agents from the auditor’s and attorney general’s offices led the raids, which were conducted on search warrants signed by Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge John Durkin.

Also participating in the sweep were officials of the county prosecutor’s office and sheriff’s office.

Then, as now, the search warrants and supporting affidavits are sealed. That means the names of city officials who are possible targets of the state probe remain confidential.

However, the search of Bozanich’s home and that of his girlfriend suggest that the long-time finance director is being scrutinized.

On March 19 in this space, it was argued that just as the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy wasn’t only about three schlubs who pleaded guilty, the state probe of the downtown projects isn’t singularly about Marchionda.

The column also noted that just as there was a mastermind in the Oakhill Renaissance criminal enterprise, “there undoubtedly is an individual in Youngstown city government whose fingerprints are all over the projects in the central business districts made possible with public dollars.”

So, now that Bozanich has been outed as a result of the search warrants, what’s going to happen to him in the near future?

Nothing – for now.

His government career is in Mayor John A. McNally’s hands, and this much we know: McNally doesn’t care about the public’s perception of city government.

Not only is he a lame duck mayor – he lost the Democratic Party nomination to former Councilman Jamael Tito Brown – but he has the distinction of being the only chief executive in the history of City Hall with a criminal record.

Indeed, he held on to his position after he was indicted on state criminal charges stemming from his participation in the Oak-hill Renaissance Place conspiracy. He was a Mahoning County commissioner when he sold his soul to Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., who cooked up the scheme to try to prevent county government from buying the former Southside Medical Center.

Cafaro, who has received a pass from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018, lured several individuals into the conspiracy.

Three were ultimately convicted on state criminal charges: McNally; former county Auditor Michael Sciortino; and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that the mayor isn’t in any hurry to remove Bozanich from his position as the city’s chief financial officer.

“Anything that is being done as part of this investigation has to play itself out before I’d consider any sort of discipline,” McNally said. “At this point there’s no reason for any disciplinary action.”

Of course, it would be the height of hypocrisy for the mayor, who has a criminal record, to pontificate about the appearance of impropriety in city government.

It is noteworthy, however, that of the three members of the board of control, two have clouds hanging over their heads, the mayor and finance director. The third member is the law director.

Under the Youngstown Home Rule Charter, the board negotiates and enters into all contracts.

In addition, the finance director is the city’s purchasing agent, maintains the city’s accounting system and has the power to investigate all its financial transactions.

In March, this writer sought to reassure residents that the investigation into Marchionda’s dealings would not be swept under the rug by pointing out that the probe is being led by state Auditor David Yost, and not Attorney General Mike “I let Cafaro off the hook” DeWine.

Yost, a former county prosecutor, began his working life as a journalist, which has provided him with a unique perspective of government.

It was also suggested in the column that Yost would not confine the investigation to the developer, seeing as how city officials were involved through the expenditure of water and wastewater money on the development projects.

That said, the state should put this investigation on a fast track because City Hall now has a finance director whose home has been searched and items taken out of it, and a mayor who has a criminal record and was voted out of office.

The black cloud that has hung over the city since McNally was indicted and then convicted just got bigger and darker. There’s a need to get rid of it as soon as possible.