A year ago, a three-member panel of the 8th District Court of Appeals reviewed the conviction of Valley attorney Martin Yavorcik in the Oakhill Renaissance Place conspiracy trial.
The year before that – March 25, 2016 – Yavorcik was found guilty of eight felonies: one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, conspiracy and tampering with records, two counts of money laundering and three counts of bribery. He had his law license suspended for five years, was required to undergo alcohol-abuse treatment and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.
At the appeal last year, a justice on the panel – a graduate of Youngstown State University – wondered why Yavorcik’s case was not heard in Mahoning County, “where everything happened,” rather than where it was heard – Cuyahoga County?
It’s a logical thought.
Judge Kathleen Ann Keough continued:
“Why do you have to take Cuyahoga County resources when you had perfectly good ones in Mahoning County?”
Two weeks ago, a year after the judge said that, Yavorcik’s sentence was overturned based on the premise that the case should have been tried in Mahoning County. After all, it has perfectly good resources.
How fitting that the day the Yavorcik news came, longtime Niles mayor Ralph Infante was being sentenced to one of the harshest prison sentences in Valley history for government corruption.
He got 10 years based on actions throughout his 24 years as mayor.
I wonder if Infante fell within the meaning of perfectly good resources?
Or Judge Belinky? Or Judge Cronin. Or the Smith Township police chief? Or ...
In short, Dan Kasaris, senior assistant attorney general, and Matthew E. Meyer, a Cuyahoga County prosecutor, had plenty of reason to play the card they did with regard to the venue of Yavorcik’s trial.
Meyer was poignant:
“Mahoning County [has a] rich history of corruption, and people in Mahoning County sell their offices. Corruption is essentially a minor offense” there.
Now to be fair, my mixing of the two cases is not in perfectly good context with the judge’s stance. I’m not using her statement apples to apples. Further, in some ways, the Infante conviction proved her right in that a jury of local peers – aka “perfectly good resources” – found a political veteran guilty 22 times.
But her broad brush that perfectly good resources exist here is a line best to be better qualified.
We do not have such.
And we do not have perfectly good resources in some pretty significant positions – as shown in the Infante case. For 24 years as mayor, he ran Niles to his own gain. The financial demise of the city in the end of his years shows that cost.
You can say the Niles people are to blame for electing him over and over.
But the people often vote based on the influence of a party system that is ideally supposed to act as a worthy filtering tool. But too often here, our local Democratic party system spews more tainted propaganda than Russia – and guys such as Infante exist.
Four years ago, the Mahoning County Democratic Party foisted incumbent Mike Sciortino onto the citizens despite his own Oakhill charges. Thankfully, enough voters had their wits about them and barely managed to unseat him (31,115 votes) and install Ralph Meacham (33,602 votes).
It’s yet another example of a script we can’t get out of; a script that so easily strangles much of our potential to rebound.
I aim to write a story in the coming weeks on my new favorite city in addition to Youngstown.
It is Fort Wayne, Ind. Youth sports have taken me to the city six times over the past few years. That’s plenty of time – if you’re so inclined – to notice good or notice bad.
Fort Wayne is a cool city with impressive projects that rival what has happened at YSU in recent years, or at the nearby chill-can factory, or the downtown amphitheater.
The projects are due to some controversial moves, no doubt, as lead governments and foundations and private enterprise collaborate to rejuvenate a downtown.
But in questioning one official about his stellar momentum, we did have one awkward, telling moment.
With the above corruption history so diverse and widespread for us, I asked an obvious question:
“When was the last time one of your government leaders was indicted, recalled or forced to resign/retire in shame?”
He froze. He looked at me like he sat on a nail.
He said he wasn’t sure what I meant. So I shuffled some words and restated the question.
“Oh – I see. Well ...” and he kind of faded into his memory bank.
After a few seconds, it was clear the answer wasn’t recent.
“I guess 20 or 25 years ago,” he said.
I laughed and said we’re on a good run if we go 20 or 25 months.
Perfectly good resources have to work twice as hard here to succeed, and that can strangle growth and development.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.