Residents of the Mahoning Valley who have bemoaned the epidemic of public corruption should send letters of appreciation to Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove for bringing the hammer down on former Niles mayor Ralph Infante.
Had Infante received a slap on the wrist from Cosgrove after a jury found him guilty of 22 criminal charges stemming from his tenure in office, it would have emboldened other corrupters of government.
Instead, the retired Summit County Common Pleas Court judge gave heart to all honest, law-abiding Valley residents when she told Infante, “What you have done is taken the public trust and gutted it, just gutted it for your own personal financial gain.”
She characterized his time in office as “two decades of public corruption.”
Judge Cosgrove sentenced Infante, an icon of the Trumbull County Democratic Party, to 10 years in prison. She also ordered him to pay restitution of $51,158 to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Auditor’s Office for costs of investigating the crimes for more than three years, starting in 2014.
The prosecution team, led by Dan Kasaris, special prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office, was unyielding in its contention that the crimes Infante committed must not go unpunished.
The case was investigated by Ohio Auditor David Yost’s Public Integrity Unit, the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and the Youngstown Office of the FBI.
“This case is a stern reminder that no one – even an elected official – stands above the law,” said Yost, the Republican nominee for Ohio attorney general. He will face Democrat Steven Dettelbach, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Attorney General DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, said the Infante sentencing shows that “public officials” will be held to account when they abuse their power.
We were struck by DeWine’s specific reference to “public officials” because we have strongly disagreed with his contention that his responsibility is to rid the public sector of corrupt officials.
We have argued in this space that individuals in the private sector who use their power and influence to control government must also be brought up on charges.
We declined to endorse DeWine in the Republican primary for governor because he let prominent Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. off the hook in the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise.
Cafaro was described as the “mastermind” of the criminal enterprise in court documents filed by DeWine’s prosecutorial team.
Contrast his view of public corruption with the one expressed by Auditor Yost in the wake of the criminal charges filed against Youngstown developer Dominic Marchionda.
Marchionda was indicted in October by a Mahoning County grand jury on 105 criminal counts relating to development projects he has launched in downtown Youngstown. Public dollars were used in the projects.
The Poland resident, who owns NYO Property Group, is alleged in the indictment to have given a $25,000 bribe to former city Finance Director David Bozanich.
Bozanich has not been charged, but an indictment is said to be imminent. He has denied any wrongdoing.
In a meeting with The Vindicator’s Editorial Board, Yost was asked if he believes that tainted government officials and those who taint them are equally guilty.
“The question answers itself based on the facts” of the downtown investigation, he replied. “We started with the guy who had the cash. We did not start with the corrupt public official. ... The first indictment was a private businessman.”
Based on that statement and on Visiting Judge Cosgrove’s contention that Infante’s tenure as mayor was marked by two decades of public corruption, we pose the following question to Yost and to DeWine: Will there be any legal action against the individuals both in and out of Niles city government who were Infante’s partners in crime?
As we’ve said repeatedly, public corruption does not occur in a vacuum. The act of bribery requires a giver and a taker.
In this region, the takers have been held to account, but the givers, especially those in the private sector, have escaped unscathed.
Infante’s 10-year prison sentence reflects the seriousness of his crimes. He received more time than the late ex-Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.
The Niles case demands charges against other individuals who enabled Infante’s corruption.