By Ed Runyan
Today’s sentencing hearing for Judy Infante on several charges related to the corruption case against her husband, former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, will mark the final phase of the case, which began with indictments in November 2016.
Several days before the April 23 start of Ralph Infante’s trial, Judy Infante, 68, pleaded guilty to a low-level felony of falsification related to tax returns and a misdemeanor falsification charge.
She pleaded guilty after being indicted on seven counts of tampering with records. She was accused of failing to report – and trying to conceal – “income from gambling and other sources.”
Meanwhile, questions remain about the restitution visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove ordered Ralph Infante to pay when she sentenced him Friday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court to 10 years in prison.
The judge ordered him to pay $51,158 for the cost of prosecution of his criminal case and $999 to the city of Niles, but it’s unclear how or if it will be collected.
The judge identified one source of payment during Friday’s hearing: The state auditor’s office is directed to deposit all cash seized during the execution of a Feb. 1, 2016, search warrant connected to the case with county Clerk of Courts Karen Infante Allen, who is the sister of the former mayor.
The clerk of courts office is ordered to maintain the money until after the appeal process has concluded. At that point, the money will be applied to the court costs owed by the former mayor and then to the costs of prosecution.
According to trial testimony, on Feb. 1, 2016, investigators with a search warrant seized $15,100 in cash and checks from the bedroom area of the home on North Rhodes Avenue in Niles that Ralph Infante, and his wife, Judy, shared at various points with Judy’s daughter, Michelle Sudzina, Sudzina’s husband and their children.
Investigators suggested that the money was the proceeds from the most recent Super Bowl block pool that Ralph Infante ran for decades. Some of Infante’s convictions related to income and gifts Infante failed to disclose to the Ohio Ethics Commission and report on income tax returns.
The raid took place on a Monday morning, a few days after Infante’s Super Bowl block pool party was held at DiLucia’s banquet hall. The annual party was for the people playing that year’s block pool.
None of the winnings from the block pool had been paid out yet because the Super Bowl upon which the pool was based was still nearly a week away.
The $999 the judge ordered as restitution was because of a theft-in-office conviction that included numerous offenses such as the sale of city scrap metal from the water department that investigators and former Auditor Charles Nader said never made it into the city treasury.
The ITAM No. 39 bar that Ralph and Judy Infante ran for many years also was raided Feb. 1, 2016, but it’s unclear whether any property was confiscated that could be applied to restitution.
The couple no longer owns the bar.
It’s unclear whether the Infantes’ home can be used to pay off the restitution, partly because of issues regarding ownership of the home.
The North Rhodes Avenue home was titled to Ralph and Judy Infante at the time of the raid, but ownership now is in the name of John and Michelle Sudzina.
Between October 2006, when the North Rhodes property was purchased for $290,000, and December 2007, the property was titled in the name of Ralph and Judy Infante, then Judy Infante, then John Suzina, then Michelle Sudzina, then Ralph Infante, according Trumbull County Auditor’s records.
It remained titled to Ralph Infante or Ralph and Judy Infante from December 2007 to July 2016, when the Sudzinas took ownership, according to records at the Trumbull County Auditor’s Office.
The purchase price was $19,200.
Michelle Sudzina testified at the trial that she is a registered nurse with three children who had to go off work for 21/2 years because of health issues, which ruined her family’s credit, and they had to file for bankruptcy.
She testified that her family moved back out of the North Rhodes home in 2009 because of health issues associated with her biological father, and they returned in February 2016.
She testified that because of credit problems for her and her husband, the couple frequently used the Infantes’ credit cards to buy things and paid the Infantes back in cash and paid half of the mortage and other expenses in cash to the Infantes.
That explanation was used by investigators with the state auditor’s office to reduce the amount of unaccounted-for cash deposits entering the Infantes’ bank accounts by about $95,000.
As a result, the amount of unaccounted-for cash found in the Infante’s accounts fell from an initial estimate of around $200,000 to a little more than $100,000.