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Another one bites the dust

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Let’s begin with some gallows humor:

Dedicated reader: Vittori [sic] so stupid why put the cash in the bank? Like [insert name here] put in safety deposit box. [Smiling face emoji]

This writer: [Insert name here] went to Switzerland to stash the cash. Even our crooks are so incompetent

Dedicated reader: [Tongue out emoji]

Or, how about singing the chorus to the hit song by Queen:

“Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

And another one gone, and another one gone

Another one bites the dust

Hey, I’m gonna get you, too,

Another one bites the dust”

The object of this writer’s affection today is Judge Diane Vettori of the Mahoning County Area Court in Sebring who’s charged with stealing at least $96,000 – and perhaps as much as $328,000 – in cash from a former client.

U.S. Attorney Justin E. Herdman in Cleveland and FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen D. Anthony announced the charge last week.

Vettori, 49, who has been suspended from the bench by the Ohio Supreme Court while the case is pending, faces one count of fraud, one count of structuring cash deposits and one count of making false statements to law enforcement.

So, the judge supposedly lied to the FBI. Did she learn nothing from those public officials who went before her to the Pokey for lying to the G Men after the scofflaws were caught with their hands in the cookie jar?

Indeed, did she not learn from her colleagues on the bench who were stripped of their robes because they turned out to be no better than the accused who appeared before them and were forced to listen to their pabulum about law and order and crime and punishment?

Judge Vettori had served in the county court since 2003 and was earning more than $70,000 a year – with full benefits – for presiding over cases one day a week.

Her husband is a retired Youngstown police officer.

Boxes of cash

And yet, when she found boxes of cash in the home of her client who had died, she did what other infamous members of the local judiciary have done: She pocketed the dough.

But rather than follow in the long tradition of similar villains and bury the money in her backyard, get a safety deposit box or fly to Geneva and deposit the funds in a secret account in a Swiss bank, Vettori tried to pull a fast one on the feds.

A criminal information filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, lays out allegations against her and also illustrates how she deposited the money in four local banks in amounts that were below the $10,000 level that would have triggered a notification by the financial institutions to the federal government.

But even then, Vettori brought attention to the transactions because she made the deposits on consecutive days in 2016.

The smallest amount deposited was $1,000; the largest, $8,000. The deposits totaled $96,200.

In so doing, she violated Title 31, United States Code, Section 5324(a)(3); Title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 103.11; and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.

In other words, U.S. Attorney Herdman has the judge by the gavel.

The filing of an Information means Vetorri has been presented with the evidence and in all probability is playing “Let’s make a deal” with the feds.

If there’s one lesson residents of the Mahoning Valley have learned after 80-plus convictions that included a congressman, judges, a prosecutor, a sheriff, a county commissioner, county auditor, county treasurer, a mayor, Mafia bosses and underlings it’s that once FBI agents come knocking on your door and ask questions that suggest they have the goods on you, don’t lie.

The only saving grace for the county court judge as she faces public repudiation – some of the money she allegedly pocketed was meant for Animal Charity and Angels for Animals – hers won’t be the only case of public corruption this year.

Former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante is facing 41 state criminal charges connected to his tenure in office. The charges include theft in office, bribery and having an unlawful interest in a public contract.

State prosecutors say the former mayor took bribes, operated an illegal gambling enterprise at ITAM 39 in Girard and sold city jobs.

Also charged are Infante’s wife, Judy, and former Niles Auditor Charles Nader.

All three have pleaded not guilty to the crimes that were uncovered by investigators of Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office.

Then there’s the high profile case of well-known developer Dominic Marchionda, who is facing more than 100 charges relating to several of his downtown Youngstown projects.

Marchionda has pleaded not guilty, but investigators with Auditor Yost’s office contend that he used state and federal dollars earmarked for the projects to pay for his lavish lifestyle.

Also implicated in the case are Youngstown Atty. Stephen Garea, who did work for Marchionda’s development company, and former Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich.

Bozanich is expected to be indicted in the not too distant future on bribery and other charges. State investigators allege the then finance director received $25,000 from Marchionda to pave the way for city government’s approval of one of the projects.

Bozanich has denied any wrongdoing.

And so the new year begins as the old year ended, with public corruption in the Mahoning Valley dominating the headlines.

But all is not lost. As more and more public officials bite the dust, the possibility exists that the message will finally get through to those with larceny in their hearts: You will be caught.

Then again, remember the essay by Writer John Kobler published in the March 1963 edition of The Saturday Evening Post under the headline “Crime Town USA” about the Mafia in the Valley.

Kobler reported that the acquiescence of police and politicians makes corruption possible. More important, he said, so does public apathy.

“The climate of corruption is so pervasive, the tradition of the rake-off so ingrained, that the average citizen, with cynical indifference, assumes all officials are venal.”

Twenty-five years later, Kobler’s words still ring true.