Ralph Infante’s appeals attorney argues lack of evidence against former Niles mayor
Merit brief claims there were 7 errors in the proceedings
By Ed Runyan
The appeals attorney for Ralph Infante, who was sent to prison in May for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity during his 24 years as Niles mayor, argued in a new filing that prosecutors failed to prove a necessary element in Infante’s most serious charge.
A jury found Infante, 62, guilty of 22 criminal counts, including 13 counts of tampering with records, as well as theft in office, having a public interest in a public contract, gambling and falsification.
Monday’s filing, called a merit brief, attacks what Atty. David Doughten feels are seven errors in the proceedings, which were overseen by Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove, hearing the case on assignment in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Doughten says the evidence presented during Infante’s two-week trial was insufficient to convict him on the engaging charge because the charge requires prosecutors to prove that Infante’s actions were “part of a continuing unit [of people] that functions with a ‘common purpose.’”
Prosecutors from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office tried to show that Infante engaged in a criminal enterprise with “a number of individuals, independent of each other, to commit small offenses, which benefited Infante.”
The filing says these actions, even if accurate, do not constitute an enterprise because “the participants here did not have a common purpose.”
Doughten quotes Infante’s indictment, which said the purpose of the enterprise was to create “sources of money and power for Ralph Infante,” but the state alleged that “each person acted out of individual interest to obtain something for themselves, not for the purpose of benefitting Infante.”
Secondly, Doughten attacked Infante’s 13 convictions on tampering with records for failing to disclose income to the Ohio Ethics Commission and on tax returns.
Doughten acknowledges some filings were inaccurate because Infante failed to report gifts and income. But the question is whether failing to report gifts and income qualifies as tampering. The issue judges assigned from the the Akron-based 9th District Court of Appeals must decide is “does the statute require a purposeful altering of reported information?”
The term tamper “connotates an active physical altering of a document,” Doughten notes.
The filing also says the judge erred in allowing testimony from forensic accountant Cara Yoder with the state auditor’s office regarding gambling earnings.
Yoder testified about “unaccounted for” cash deposits, which she deemed to be profit for Infante.
She called the money “unaccounted for” because Infante and his wife, Judy, could not provide an explanation for how they earned it. But Yoder acknowledged that she had not interviewed the people who participated in a yearly Super Bowl block pool Infante ran and “had no idea who made the transactions.”