Mahoning County’s dirty laundry gets aired in court proceedings


On the side

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson, who represent the Mahoning Valley in the House, had very differing opinions on President Donald Trump’s executive order rolling back a number of Barack Obama-era climate policies.

Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, who was at Trump’s signing ceremony, said the order “directly addresses many of the Obama administration’s efforts to permanently shutter the coal industry and kill fossil fuel-related jobs across the country. Ohio’s fossil fuel energy industries and hardworking taxpayers have been hit especially hard by President Obama’s left-wing legacy pandering. There is no reason to punish consumers and job creators for responsibly using our natural energy resources.”

Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said the Republican president continues “to ignore the massive economic boon that transitioning to a clean-energy economy would bring,” adding: “President Trump needs to stop lying to the American people about how this harmful executive order will impact our job market, and work on ways [to] get coal miners back to work building a new, clean economy.”

“Mahoning County [has a] rich history of corruption, and people in Mahoning County sell their offices. Corruption is essentially a minor offense.”

Those were the words of Matthew E. Meyer, a Cuyahoga County assistant prosecutor, during Tuesday’s hearing in Cleveland in front of a three-member panel of the 8th District Court of Appeals.

The court was hearing the appeal of Martin Yavorcik, convicted in 2016 for his involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance Place corruption scandal.

Prosecutors tried to convince the court to have Yavorcik sent to prison.

David Doughten, Yavorcik’s attorney, tried to get his client’s convictions overturned.

Before Meyer’s Mahoning County comment, Dan Kasaris, senior assistant attorney general and the other prosecuting attorney in Yavorcik’s case, said that as a Mahoning County native, when he tells people where he’s from, he gets strange looks.

That’s because, he said, the county has a reputation for corruption.

Meyer and Kasaris were arguing that they didn’t try the Oakhill cases in Mahoning County because of that reputation.

You can go back decades or even just a few weeks ago to see the rich history of public corruption in not just Mahoning County but in Trumbull County.

The list of those convicted of selling their office, taking advantage of it or working an illegal scheme is long with several prominent names on it.

Instead of Mahoning County, the cases of Yavorcik along with his two Oakhill co-defendants – Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, in his previous capacity as a county commissioner, and ex-county Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, both Democrats – were indicted in Cuyahoga County.

Cuyahoga County’s reputation for public integrity isn’t exactly pristine.

Also, when all was said and done, none of the three co-defendants ended up going to prison even though they were all found guilty.

Judge Janet R. Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court sentenced Yavorcik, a failed 2008 independent Mahoning County prosecutor candidate, on April 22, 2016, to five years’ probation, including the first year on house arrest.

The judge also had Yavorcik’s law license suspended for five years, required him to undergo alcohol-abuse treatment, gave him 200 hours of community service and ordered him to serve a seven-year prison sentence if he violates any of the conditions while on probation.

Yavorcik was found guilty March 25, 2016, 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.

McNally and Sciortino took deals to much less serious charges and were sentenced to a year’s probation each.

Prosecutors didn’t make recommendations to the judge on what punishment should be given to McNally and Sciortino as part of the plea deals.

After Yavorcik was found guilty, Meyer and Kasaris asked that Yavorcik be sentenced to five to nine years in prison.

The judge gave him probation with his first year on house arrest.

While the cases could have been heard in Mahoning County, it still would have required a visiting judge and special prosecutors.

But could the sentences have been any lighter if the cases were heard in Mahoning County?

Kasaris has become a familiar face in Valley public corruption cases. He prosecuted former Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky and is handling the criminal case of ex-Niles Mayor Ralph A. Infante. He’s also involved in the ongoing investigation of NYO Property Group in Youngstown.

As for what will happen with the appeals in Yavorcik’s case, it’s hard to say.

Kathleen Ann Keough, one of the three appeals judge and a Youngstown State University graduate, repeatedly questioned why Yavorcik’s case wasn’t heard in Mahoning County.

She didn’t sound convinced by the prosecutors’ arguments about the public-corruption reputation and made it sound like Cuyahoga County wasn’t the proper venue.

“Why not charge in Mahoning County, this guy [Yavorcik] in particular?” she asked.

Also, when Meyer told the appellate court that Judge Burnside’s sentence was contrary to law, appellate Judge Sean C. Gallagher interrupted him to say he’s heard it before.

But as Doughten, Yavorcik’s lawyer, told me as he and his client were leaving the court: “You can never tell [the decision] from what they say” during the hearing.

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