By David Skolnick
City council members expressed disappointment and surprise with the indictment of former Mayor Charles Sammarone on 14 felonies.
“I was totally shocked,” said Councilman Nate Pinkard, D-3rd. “He’s got a long career of public service to this community, and for him to be involved in this is totally shocking. I find it hard to believe.”
Pinkard said he’s known Sammarone for decades.
“I’ve had great respect for him,” Pinkard said. “He’s always given me great advice. I’ve always looked up to him.”
A Thursday indictment accuses Sammarone, mayor from August 2011 to December 2013, of soliciting and receiving recurring cash payments from an unnamed vendor in return for steering projects to the company.
The payments listed in the indictment extend from October 2012 to July 2013 and totaled $10,000.
Sammarone, a Democrat, also is accused of failing to disclose the payments along with rental income derived from owning a condo in Florida and is accused of making false statements about the money to state investigative officials.
He’s charged with one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, nine counts of bribery, three counts of tampering with records and one count of falsification.
On Thursday, Sammarone told The Vindicator: “As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do anything wrong.”
The indictment, however, states there’s a 2014 recording of Sammarone who repeatedly says: “I am with the old school; one hand washes the other,” and “Anything is legal if no one else knows about it. I have been around a long time.”
Sammarone was first elected 5th Ward councilman in 1981, then elected council president in 1989, leaving that position to become water commissioner in March 2002. He then was elected council president again in 2005 and 2009, leaving to become mayor in August 2011 when Jay Williams resigned to work for the Obama administration.
Sammarone opted not to run for mayor in 2013 and instead was elected to another four-year term as council president. He retired from government office in December 2017.
The indictment also alleges former longtime Finance Director David Bozanich, who left that job in December 2017, illegally received cash, golf fees, trips and other benefits exceeding $125,000 over a 10-year period in his official city job capacity to do favors for various companies, including those owned by downtown developer Dominic Marchionda.
The indictment supersedes one from Oct. 2, 2017, against Marchionda and a dozen of his affiliated companies.
On Friday, John F. McCaffrey, Marchionda’s attorney, issued a written statement calling the superseding indictment “a rehashing of many of the same allegations contained in the indictment returned 11 months” earlier.
McCaffrey said: “Dominic Marchionda believes in the rebirth of downtown Youngstown. He has demonstrated that belief through the many successful development projects completed to date. He has taken abandoned, dilapidated buildings in downtown Youngstown and restored them to their former glory for modern-day use.
“These development projects have been a catalyst for the vibrant resurgence of downtown Youngstown, the creation of high-paying construction jobs and permanent positions for the downtown community. He has risked a great deal, personally and professionally, in pursuing his vision for the rebirth of Youngstown.”
McCaffrey added: “Nearly one year ago, Mr. Marchionda rejected the state’s characterizations of his work to redevelop downtown Youngstown. Today, as then, Mr. Marchionda rejects the state’s characterizations.”
Current and former council members said they were less surprised about Bozanich being indicted because The Vindicator reported nearly 11 months ago he was the unnamed city official in Marchionda’s indictment accused of bribing the businessman.
“It’s another black cloud over the city,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th.
Ray said there have been rumors of Sammarone, but “you can’t believe every person on the street. ... We’ll see what plays out with the whole legal process.”
Other current and former council members said they hadn’t heard anything about Sammarone allegedly taking money.
“I’m shocked to see [Sammarone’s] name in there,” said Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th.
She added: Every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back. ... Businesses will take pause because of the investigations.”
“I’m surprised by Sammarone,” said Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, who added: “When is it going to come to an end?”
Apparently not anytime soon.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, whose staff worked on the investigation, said the indictments aren’t done.
“An investigation is like a ball of string,” he said. “You take it to the end, and we’re not to the end.”
Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th, said, “One of the things that caught my attention was how long it was going on. Allegedly, the information Bozanich gave council was bogus. We need more checks and balances over the years.”
Councilman Julius Oliver, D-1st, said, “It’s another black eye for the city. I’m a little disappointed, but it’s easy to indict anyone.”
Oliver was indicted in 2010 on charges of receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon. He was found guilty two years later of an “unclassified misdemeanor” and fined $250.
John A. McNally, who succeeded Sammarone as mayor and retained Bozanich as finance director during his four-year term, said, “Nothing surprises me anymore. It really doesn’t.”
While serving as mayor, McNally was convicted in 2016 of four misdemeanors in the Oakhill Renaissance Place corruption scandal in his prior capacity as a Mahoning County commissioner.
Jamael Tito Brown, who beat McNally in last year’s Democratic primary for mayor, said in a written statement: “Taxpayers deserve honest government and the perception that government officials are honest – and this is exactly what my administration is providing.”
He added: “Any time an allegation is made it makes it more difficult to convince prospective investors to locate or relocate in our beautiful city. As mayor, I am embarrassed and angry that a former administration and officials may have used this city for personal gain.”
Several former council members – Annie Gillam, D-1st; Paul Drennen, D-5th; and Janet Tarpley, D-6th – said they were surprised by Sammarone’s indictment.
“It’s terrible that these individuals pulled the wool over a lot of people’s eyes over the years and deceived many in the process. And it has and will cost the city lots of time and money,” Drennen said.
Former Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, declined to comment.
The indictment supersedes an Oct. 2, 2017, one against Marchionda and his affiliated businesses with charges including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated theft, receiving stolen property, tampering with records, telecommunications fraud and money laundering.
The indictment accuses Marchionda of misusing money obtained from the city as well as the state and federal governments for the Flats at Wick student housing complex and projects to turn the Erie Terminal Place and Wick Towers into downtown apartments.
The indictment alleges Marchionda improperly spent grants received from Youngstown from its water and wastewater funds and loans from the city in addition to money from the state and federal governments to develop the projects.
It also accuses him of theft and money laundering related to funneling $1.7 million in insurance money intended for repairs to the Legal Arts Building after a flood into the Wick Towers project.