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Crime pays for Vigorito

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Anthony Vigorito, former plant operations manager of the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District, has a criminal record – which he has parlayed into a $15,318 payment in public funds.

But Vigorito’s avarice doesn’t end there. He’s demanding another $12,000 from the water district.

No, this isn’t a joke.

The ex-MVSD manager pleaded guilty last year to attempted forgery, criminal noncompliance and records tampering related to his side job as an instructor of a certification course offered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

On March 29, 2017, the MVSD’s board of directors placed him on paid administrative leave after he was indicted on six criminal counts: two each of forgery, criminal noncompliance with the state’s safe-drinking water law and tampering with records.

The charges stemmed from Vigorito allegedly falsifying training records of 25 Youngstown Water Department employees and a former employee in 2013 and 2014.

But after the decision to pay him while on leave caused a public stir, the board of directors reversed itself and placed him on unpaid administrative leave.

On April 4, 2017, Vigorito pleaded innocent to the criminal charges. The case was prosecuted by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which had secured guilty pleas from the 20-plus water department employees to falsifying their training hours.

They also agreed to testify against the former MVSD manager.

But the case ended last December when Vigorito was allowed to plead to misdemeanor charges of attempted forgery, criminal non compliance and records tampering.

Any way you cut it, he got the better end of the plea deal.

Back pay

That’s because his misdemeanor charges made him eligible for back pay from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.

There’s a state law that enables a civil-service employee on unpaid administrative leave to receive up to two months’ pay if guilty of a misdemeanor. Vigorito would not have received any money had he been convicted of the felonies.

The $15,318 payment approved by the board last week includes 4 percent interest required by law.

Not one of the four MVSD board members would justify or, at the very least, explain the payment to The Vindicator. They left it up to the district’s lawyer, Thomas Wilson.

The four members are Vernard Richberg, chairman, James Gibbs, Richard Hale and Michael Neopolitan.

Neopolitan can be excused for ducking the newspaper on this issue because he was appointed to the board earlier this month.

Richberg, Gibbs and Hale had a responsibility to the public to reveal how they felt about an individual with a criminal record taking financial advantage of the water district.

They also should have weighed in on the state law that opens the door to a criminal – yes, someone convicted of a crime is a criminal – being able to get paid for two weeks of unpaid administrative leave.

Where’s the punishment for breaking the law? The state statute must be changed.

But Vigorito, a resident of Niles who was sentenced to one year of probation, $3,000 in fines, 100 hours’ community service and loss of his professional certifications, isn’t satisfied with the back pay.

He has filed a lawsuit in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court seeking payment of nearly $12,000 more in unused sick leave. The district is contesting the claim.

Indeed, Vigorito has already pocketed $11,000-plus. MVSD policy limits the amount to no more than half the maximum allowed for accrued unused sick leave.

The Mahoning Valley Sanitary District is a public entity that sells bulk drinking water to its two member cities, Youngstown and Niles, and the village of McDonald.

The water comes from Meander Reservoir and is purified at the MVSD’s plant in Mineral Ridge.

Youngstown, Niles and McDonald sell the water to their customers, both commercial and residential, inside and outside their boundaries.

A special court of jurisdiction made up of a common pleas court judge from Mahoning and Trumbull counties oversees the operation of the water district.

In recent months, the judges, Lou D’Apolito from Mahoning County and Ronald Rice from Trumbull County, have refused to rubberstamp spending requests from the MVSD board of directors.

The scrutiny of the district’s operation is warranted, which is why the payment to Vigorito and his demand for more money have raised eyebrows.

So here’s a question for the MVSD: Was anyone aware that state prosecutors had decided to drop the criminal charges against the ex-plant manager and to let him plead guilty to the misdemeanors?

There’s a reason for asking it. Vigorito obviously knew he would benefit financially by pleading guilty to the misdemeanors, so there should have been strong objections from the MVSD to the plea deal.

Indeed, prosecutors from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office should answer this question: Were you aware that Vigorito intended to monetize the gift you gave him?

In fact, the willingness of the state to make a deal with the former plant manager is puzzling, given that a grand jury indicted him on the six felony counts.

He was looking at a maximum of five years in prison and $12,000 in fines.

Instead, crime has paid for Vigorito.