By Ed Runyan
A special prosecutor has filed a rebuttal to former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante’s argument that “almost all evidence” is gone that Infante could use to defend himself in his public-corruption criminal case.
The case is set for a pretrial hearing at 1:30 p.m. today before Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove. The hearing will be handled by telephone and is likely to be closed to the public.
Atty. Dan Kasaris of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said in a Tuesday filing that his office won’t have any trouble presenting evidence at Infante’s Feb. 26 trial in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on charges of bribery, gambling, theft in office and records tampering.
“Witnesses who paid the bribe or who provided the gifts are alive, scheduled to testify against [Infante] and are available for cross-examination,” Kasaris wrote.
“There can be no showing that the state is responsible for any record the defendant is unable to locate,” Kasaris said.
Kasaris compared Infante’s argument to someone burying “the evidence of his criminal conduct in his backyard and then complaining when law enforcement digs it up.”
One count deals with Infante’s alleged rehiring of his brother to a job with the city in January 2013, Kasaris said. That conduct, if proved, would be a felony offense.
“Joe Infante, the brother of the defendant, is scheduled to testify against [Ralph Infante] on this issue, as are members of the Niles auditor’s office,” Kasaris said. There’s a document signed by Ralph Infante connected to that charge, he noted.
Infante, 62, is facing charges accusing him of taking bribes, receiving inappropriate gifts, tampering with records, illegal gambling and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
His wife, Judy, and former Niles Auditor Charles Nader also are charged, though Nader’s case is now separate from the Infantes.
In October, Ralph Infante’s attorney, John Juhasz, argued that all 41 counts of Ralph Infante’s August 2017 indictments should be dismissed because of an “unjustified delay” by prosecutors in charging Infante.
Some of the charges date back to 1993, to nearly the beginning of Infante’s 24-year career as Niles mayor. But about 30 of them allege misconduct no more than six years before the charges were filed, according to a Vindicator accounting.
Juhasz alleged that Infante is prevented from defending himself against the charges for lack of documents and other issues.
“Because almost all evidence that the defendant would present has now turned into missing and destroyed records, faded memories and deceased witnesses, the defendant’s ability to defend himself is now irretrievably evaporated, destroyed by the failure of the government to act timely,” Juhasz said in his October filing.
Kasaris pointed out in his filing that some of the gambling charges were filed within six months of the purported conduct and all of the charges were filed within the time frame allowed under Ohio law.
Four of the 41 charges could not have been filed against an ordinary citizen because of the normal statute of limitations but can be filed against Infante because there is a different statute for public officials, Kasaris said.
The other 36 charges meet the requirement for any citizen, Kasaris said.
The statute of limitations for all of Infante’s purported offenses ran out two years after he left office Jan. 1, 2016, Kasaris said.
As to whether prosecutors unjustifiably delayed their filing of charges, Kasaris said the investigation began in fall 2014 with subpoenas of Infante’s bank records, which revealed that Infante received more than $100,000 in cash he failed to report as income.
In 2015, investigators investigated where the money had come from. They searched his tax records, city records, city computers and interviewed city employees, vendors, business people, city officials and others, Kasaris said.
That led to search warrants in December 2015 for building department records and again in February 2016 at Infante’s home and business.
The 2016 searches revealed an illegal gambling operation and other criminal conduct, the filing says.
“This investigation began in late 2014, and within two years, the defendant was indicted,” Kasaris said.
During a hearing in November, Juhasz also argued that evidence seized at Infante’s home on North Rhodes Avenue in Niles should be suppressed.
Judge Cosgrove has not ruled on any of Juhasz’s motions regarding suppression of evidence or dismissal of charges.