As Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove contemplates the punishment she will mete out Friday to former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, we would urge her to recall what she said during the sentencing of another prominent area politician who fell from grace.
In addressing ex-Mahoning County Auditor Michael V. Sciortino, who was convicted of repeated illegal use of county computers, Judge Cosgrove said:
“You have to be punished because every county employee is going to look at this and [say], ‘Hey, he got a slap on the wrist and I can keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing and [nothing] happens.’”
The retired Summit County Common Pleas Court judge then sentenced Sciortino to four-to-six months at a halfway house.
Sciortino was also convicted for his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise but received a slap on the wrist from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Janet Burnside.
Law-abiding, honest residents of the Mahoning Valley are looking to the criminal justice system to clean up the cesspool of public corruption.
The list of officeholders and other officials who have broken the law continues to grow, and it is only with a show-no-mercy attitude on the part of judges that prospective scofflaws will be dissuaded from crossing over to the dark side.
Hence, we call on Judge Cosgrove to take the same hard line with former Mayor Infante that she took with Sciortino.
Indeed, in finding Infante guilty of 22 criminal charges, the jury left no doubt Monday about the seriousness of the crimes committed by the longtime officeholder and one of the most prominent Democrats in Trumbull County, if not the Valley.
The most serious charge for which he must pay is the one that now defines his tenure in office: engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.
The jury found Infante guilty of 13 counts of tampering with records, which are all third-degree felonies. Each carries a prison sentence of up to three years.
And, the jury found him guilty of gambling counts and two counts of theft in office and one of having an unlawful interest in a public contract. Unfortunately, jurors found him not guilty of all the bribery counts.
After the verdict was read, Judge Cosgrove revoked the former mayor’s bond. He was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated for nine hours before reaching a decision on the 32 charges.
In a nutshell, the crimes committed by Infante while he was the undisputed leader of Niles government highlight the culture of corruption so evident in the Valley’s public sector.
During her sentencing of Sciortino, Judge Cosgrove refused to let the former county auditor argue that his illegal use of government property was “harmless.”
“Let’s not gild the lily,” she told the former director of the Mahoning County Board of Elections.
She subsequently added, “Your fall from grace has been meteoric. You had a law license, and now you work as a manager at a doughnut shop. It doesn’t get any worse than that.”
We urge the judge to approach Friday’s sentencing of Infante with the same sense of outrage.
Infante was no political rookie, nor was he an innocent bystander as corruption swirled around him. He was the mastermind of the crimes committed in the mayor’s office.
We use the word “mastermind” to remind readers that the same prosecutor who handled the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise case is the one who succeeded in securing the guilty verdict against the former mayor.
Atty. Dan Kasaris of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s staff and his assistants used the word “mastermind” in reference to prominent Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., who sought to prevent Mahoning County commissioners from buying Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical.
Cafaro was not charged in the criminal enterprise case and the attorney general closed the Oakhill file without any action against him.
The retired president of the Cafaro Co. was also featured prominently in the Infante case. Evidence was presented that Cafaro gave the mayor $8,000 worth of tickets to the 2007 college football national championship game.
Prosecutors contend the city of Niles waived building permit fees and provided free water for use at the baseball field owned by the Cafaro family.
Public corruption does not occur in a vacuum, which is why Judge Cosgrove must deliver an unequivocal message when she sentences Infante tomorrow.