It isn’t bribery; it’s love

Here’s what Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.’s apologists want you to believe:

Ralph Infante woke up one morning when he was mayor of Niles and said to himself, “I really love Big Tony and the Cafaro Co. They’ve been great citizens of my city, and I’ve got to show them my appreciation. I know, I’ll give them free water for their baseball field and will wave the building permit fees for their new headquarters at the Eastwood Mall Complex.”

And so it came to pass that the Cafaro Co., one of the largest shopping center developers in the nation, received $60,000 in free water from the city of Niles and saved thousands of dollars in fees.

Big Tony’s sycophants also want you to know that the then-president of the family business woke up one morning and said to himself, “I just love Ralphie. He’s a great public servant. He’s the salt of the earth. I must show him how much I care. I know, I’ll give him tickets to the 2007 college football championship game between Ohio State and Florida. Tress [Jim Tressel of Youngstown State football fame] is the Buckeyes coach, and Ralphie will enjoy hobnobbing with the rich and famous.”

And so it came to pass that Mayor Infante went to the national championship game in Arizona armed with premium tickets worth $7,500.

Love knows no bounds.

Oakhill Renaissance

Likewise, defenders of Cafaro Sr., who is retired from the company his father built, want you to know that former Mahoning County Commissioner John A. McNally and county Auditor Michael Sciortino were so enthralled by Big Tony and his altruism that they woke up one morning and said to themselves, “We must find a way of protecting the Cafaro Co. from those vultures, Commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt. We will fight to stop Traficanti and Ludt from buying Oakhill Renaissance Place [the former Southside Medical Center] so they won’t be able to move the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza.”

And so it came to pass that the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy was born. Cafaro was a reluctant participant, forced by McNally, Sciortino and other county officials to get involved. He didn’t want to, his supplicants insist.

Sadly, because of his public persona and his reputation as a caring human being, overzealous investigators and prosecutors accused him of being the “mastermind.”

It is, therefore, right and just that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, has refused to crucify Saint Anthony The Innocent. DeWine prevented a miscarriage of justice.

Cafaro Sr.’s disciples also want you to know that Lisa Antonini, former Democratic Party chairwoman and county treasurer, forced the prominent Valley businessman to accept her help in defeating county Prosecutor Paul Gains.

Antonini was incensed that Gains sent boxes of documents relating to the Oakhill Renaissance purchase to the Ohio Ethnics Commission, which reviewed the records and launched a criminal investigation.

Antonini agreed to support Atty. Martin Yavorcik’s independent challenge of Gains.

Big Tony was so grateful to Antonini that he gave her a $200 campaign contribution and $3,000 in cash.

Antonini pleaded guilty to taking the money and not declaring it on her campaign finance reports.

Once again, Cafaro was simply minding his own business when he was caught up in the Yavorcik scheme, his peeps say.

Of course, it’s just a coincidence that Anthony Cafaro, his brother, John J. and their late sister, Flora, shelled out $40,000 each for the Youngstown lawyer’s challenge of Gains.

Big Tony’s sycophants also want you to believe that former Trumbull County Commissioner James G. Tsagaris was so inspired by the businessman’s good works and deeds that he went to him uninvited and said, “The Lord has told me I must do something worthwhile for you. So, any time you need me to vote on an issue that’s important to you, just call. You would honor me greatly, my liege.”

Cafaro was so moved by this offer of assistance that he gave Tsagaris $36,551 during his tenure as commissioner.

The prominent businessman’s disciples also want you to believe that it was Flora Cafaro’s kindness that caused her to give the late Judge Maureen Cronin of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court an $18,000 no-interest cash loan, with no collateral or repayment schedule.

The disciples insist it was mere coincidence there were more than 50 civil lawsuits filed against the Cafaro Co. pending in Judge Cronin’s court.

But the ultimate display of love for Big Tony was shown when all those public officials willingly paid the ultimate price.

Last week, Infante, who had lost his bid for re-election as mayor in 2015, was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. A jury found him guilty of 22 criminal charges, including the overarching one: engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The jury also found Infante guilty of not declaring on his ethics disclosure forms the football tickets worth $7,500 that he got from Cafaro.

The former mayor’s plea for leniency did not sway Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove.

As for McNally and Sciortino, they pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges for their participation in the Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy.

While they were spared prison time by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Janet Burnside, both paid a hefty political price.

Voters rejected McNally, who sought a second term as mayor of Youngstown; Sciortino lost his re-election bid for county auditor.

Tsagaris, who was so eager to please Cafaro, pleaded guilty to two federal counts of honest-services mail fraud and was sentenced to three years’ probation, including one year of electronic monitoring house arrest, and fined $4,000.

Tsagaris was sent to federal prison for nine months for violating his probation by leaving home without authorization while he was under house arrest.

Cronin, who died recently, pleaded guilty to two federal felony charges of honest-services mail fraud. She was sentenced to 27 months in the federal penitentiary and was fined $4,000.

Antonini pleaded guilty to a single federal count of honest-services mail fraud. She served five months in federal prison and as part of the plea agreement cooperated in the probe of public corruption in the Valley.

And what of Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.?

He continues to be surrounded by guardian angels – the latest being Ohio Attorney General DeWine, who is running for governor.

Let us pray in song: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore ...”

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