Like a benevolent dictator, Donald J. Trump wants to pardon thousands of Americans convicted of crimes, which means that a long list of Mahoning Valley slugs could soon land on his desk.
But there’s one prominent Valley criminal who shouldn’t hold his breath for a presidential pardon: Mafia Godfather Lenine “Lenny” Strollo.
Strollo, who orchestrated the criminal enterprise in the region for decades, was arrested by the FBI 21 years ago as part of the federal government’s crackdown on government corruption and organized crime in the Valley.
He was indicted on federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) violations of aggravated murder, casino-style gambling and numbers lottery.
Strollo was also charged in state court with the attempted murder in December 1996 of then Mahoning County Prosecutor-elect Paul Gains.
The mob boss decided to cut his losses and make a deal. In 2004, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but with credit for time served and good time he was released in September 2008.
He thus served a total of nine years for his crime spree. If that’s where the story of Strollo’s life of crime ended, a presidential pardon would not be beyond the realm of possibilities.
But, the deal he made with the government also required him to become an informant – “snitch” in Mafia parlance.
He provided the FBI and federal prosecutors with important information about the mob in America. His first-hand knowledge of the players in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and New York proved invaluable with regard to the nationwide war on organized crime.
In addition, Strollo testified in the trials of various local public officials and other crooks.
Therein lies the mobster’s hurdle for getting a kiss on the cheek from Trump.
Over the years, there have been persistent reports of Trump’s business relationship with mobsters in New York City.
There’s no doubt that his success as a real estate developer in New York has fed those rumors.
David Cay Johnson, an investigative journalist who has spent years looking into Trump’s business dealings, published an article in 2016 headlined “Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob?”
Here’s what Johnson wrote in part about the businessman’s development projects: “ … he’d hired mobbed-up firms to erect Trump Tower and his Trump Plaza apartment building in Manhattan, including buying ostensibly overpriced concrete from a company controlled by mafia chieftains Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Paul Castellano. That story eventually came out in a federal investigation, which also concluded that in a construction industry saturated with mob influence, the Trump Plaza apartment building most likely benefited from connections to racketeering.”
Even if President Trump were only casually acquainted with members of La Cosa Nostra in New York City, pardoning Strollo, the mob boss-turned snitch, would go over like a lead balloon – or cement shoes.
So, who else among the Mahoning Valley’s headliners could be considered for a presidential pardon from Trump?
Without a doubt, the first name of the list would be James A. Traficant Jr. Why? Because the late Valley congressman is being channeled by Trump, whose “Make America Great Again” populist appeal is an offshoot of Traficant’s long-standing “Buy American” campaign.
Traficant, who died in 2014 from injuries suffered in an accident on his farm, was convicted of using his public office for personal gain. He was found guilty of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion and was sentenced to eight years in federal prison.
He served about seven years and was released in 2009.
Even in death, Traficant remains one of the most popular politicians in this region’s history, a fact not lost on Trump.
Although the real estate developer from New York City ran as a Republican, he campaigned as a populist with an America-first agenda, much like Traficant did during his eight terms in Congress.
That strategy enabled Trump in the 2016 presidential election to carry the predominantly Democratic Trumbull County and do extremely well in Mahoning County.
Aware that such political support could be fleeting, the president would undoubtedly want to solidify his standing in the Mahoning Valley for his re-election bid in 2020.
That’s why he would issue a presidential pardon posthumously.
The second name on the list of the Valley’s criminal class would be John J. Cafaro, a former high-ranking executive of the Cafaro Co., one of the largest shopping center developers in the nation.
Cafaro and Trump have a personal relationship, as evidenced by the New York billionaire’s public acknowledgement of the Valley millionaire.
In February 2016, Trump held a nationally televised event to raise money for veterans through his private charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Trump, who was blazing the political trail as a first-time candidate, began reciting the list of his wealthy friends who had pledged money for the charity.
That’s when he made an announcement heard round the Mahoning Valley: “J.J. Cafaro of Palm Beach and Cleveland, $50,000.” He went on to describe Cafaro, who is a neighbor of his in Palm Beach, as a “fantastic man” who had been a great success in business in Cleveland.
Obviously, he was talking about the Mahoning Valley’s infamous son.
In fact, in February 2017, Cafaro hobnobbed with President Trump at the Red Cross ball in Florida.
But coverage of the event included this paragraph in the Miami Herald:
“While protesters stood outside his Mar-a-Lago club Saturday night in Palm Beach, tuxedo-clad President Donald Trump and first lady Melania were being entertained by the organizers of the Red Cross Ball. And among those cozying up to the world’s most powerful man was a convicted felon named J.J. Cafaro.
“His crime? Bribery of a public official.”
Cafaro pleaded guilty two different times in federal court to charges related to illegal campaign donations. In 2002, Cafaro pleaded guilty to attempting to bribe then-Congressman Traficant. His plea enabled him to avoid jail time.
In 2008, Cafaro, the retired executive vice president of the Cafaro Co., again pleaded gullty to campaign-related offenses. This time he failed to disclose a $10,000 loan he made to his daughter, Capri, in her failed bid for a seat in Congress.
He was sentenced to three years probation and 150 hours of community service. He also was ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.
This criminal record will continue to haunt J.J. Cafaro the more he’s seen in President Trump’s company.
That’s why he is a leading candidate for a presidential pardon.
Also on the list could be J.J.’s older brother, Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co., who hasn’t been convicted of any crime, but remains the central figure in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy.
Trump could pardon him for being the “mastermind” of the conspiracy, thereby negating any possibility of future criminal charges.
Another possible object of Trump’s affection is former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence in state prison.
Infante, who had ties to the Cafaro family, was found guilty of 21 criminal charges related to his tenure in office.
As the cartoon on today’s Editorial Page illustrates, Trump has even talked having the power to pardon himself.