The right hand was about to give the left hand a “high five” after indictments tied to Youngstown city government were unsealed when the inner voice spoke up: “Do not celebrate prematurely the way you did with the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy.”
By the way, the inner voice is the same one that keeps urging this writer to play 666 on Sundays in the Ohio Lottery’s three-digit game. For the uninitiated, 666 is The Devil’s number.
On Thursday, a Mahoning County grand jury handed down a sphincter-clinching indictment of three prominent players in the city of Youngstown: David “Bozo The Clown” Bozanich; Charles “Chuckles” Sammarone; and, Dominic “Bling Bling” Marchionda. (The nicknames are for dramatic effect, given the crimes they are alleged to have committed.)
Bozanich, veteran finance director of the city until his resignation in December; Sammarone, veteran city government officeholder, including mayor; and Marchionda, headline-grabbing downtown developer, were the main actors in what state prosecutors are calling “The Enterprise.” There were nine John Does (unidentified individuals), six unidentified companies, a state agency, Youngstown city government and 14 businesses that wittingly or unwittingly participated in The Enterprise.
The bottom line: Bozanich, Sammarone and Marchionda are alleged to have made out like bandits.
Reading the 78-page, 101-count indictment was “Deja vu all over again,” in the words of that great American philosopher Yogi Berra.
It has the same stench of public-trust betrayal that emanated from the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal indictment of two prominent Mahoning County officeholders, Commissioner John A. McNally and county Auditor Michael Sciortino. Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik also was indicted.
McNally, who left the commissioners’ office to become Youngstown mayor, and Sciortino pleaded guilty to several criminal charges for their role in the Oakhill Renaissance conspiracy.
The conspiracy was cooked up by prominent Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., who walked away unscathed after being given a pass by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Cafaro sought to prevent the county from buying Oakhill Renaissance, the former Southside Medical Center, because commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt publicly pledged to relocate the county’s Job and Family Services offices from the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on the city’s East Side.
Commissioner McNally and Auditor Sciortino conspired with Cafaro and others to derail the project.
McNally and Sciortino cut deals with state prosecutors that had them pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges. Thus, they avoided time behind bars, which would have been the punishment if they had gone to trial and were found guilty.
The definite advantage to their being allowed to plead was the kid-glove treatment they received from Judge Janet Burnside of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. The case was moved from Mahoning County because state prosecutors were of the opinion that this region’s history of public corruption would have given the accused a definite advantage in the criminal justice system.
But the move turned out to be a mistake on the part of the prosecution. Yavorcik, who went to trial and was convicted of the criminal charges, challenged the verdict, saying the case should have been heard in Mahoning County. An appeals court agreed, and the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the state.
Thus, this writer’s excitement over the Oakhill Renaissance indictment turned to deep disappointment and prompted questions about Attorney General DeWine’s decision not to charge Cafaro, the mastermind (the characterization of state prosecutors) of the criminal enterprise.
Indeed, when the indictment was unsealed, DeWine’s statements led The Vindicator to praise him for giving public corruption in the Valley the attention it deserves.
This region’s history of corrupt public officials and of influential individuals eager to corrupt them has been detrimental to economic and social advancement of Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
It was telling that McNally refused to step down as mayor of Youngstown after his conviction on the criminal charges. Fortunately, voters in the city kicked him out.
Likewise, Mahoning County voters gave Sciortino the boot.
The Oakhill Renaissance case is a bitter reminder of that old saying, “Disappointment comes from high expectations.”
That’s why the indictment of former Mayor Sammarone, former Finance Director Bozanich and developer Marchionda should be tempered with a heavy dose of reality.
That said, the details of the alleged crimes committed by the trio make for some compelling reading.
Bozanich is accused of illegally enriching himself to the tune of $125,000. He is said to have taken bribes in cash, but what makes him Bozo The Clown are his figurative pratfalls in the form of free golf outings, free meals, free trips and other freebies.
Here’s what the indictment says about Bozo’s greed:
“During the … time frame John Doe 6 provided this defendant with over 80 to 100 meals and other benefits at various country clubs and restaurants in the Mahoning Valley …”
As for “Chuckles” Sammarone, he is accused of soliciting and pocketing $1,000 and $1,500 in monthly payments from an employee of an unnamed local business in exchange for receiving work in the city.
Between October 2012 and July 2013, Sammarone, who described himself as “old school” in a tape recording made secretly four years ago, is alleged to have pocketed $10,000.
Here’s why the nickname “Chuckles” is appropriate: On the tape that was related to an election in which his son, Chris, was a candidate, he said: “ … one hand washes the other. … Anything is legal if no one else knows about it. I have been around a long time.”
The former mayor has denied any wrongdoing.
Finally there’s Marchionda, who was originally indicted on 100-plus criminal counts last year and is now the target of a superseding indictment. A slew of his businesses are also the targets of the investigation.
The developer is accused of misusing money obtained from the city, state and federal governments for various downtown projects.
The indictment says Marchionda improperly spent at least $600,000 from city funds on personal items, and also illegally tapped into other sources of money.
Here’s what the document says that makes the nickname “Bling Bling” so appropriate:
“The defendant took a check from the account of the Par Golf Tournament, supported by funds which are supposed to be used for the Rich Autism Center, and bought his wife jewelry at a jewelry store in Warren … with the money.”
It is to be hoped that these cases go to trial so the taxpayers can hear all the sordid details of the alleged crimes committed by Bozanich, Sammarone and Marchionda and others.
It would be interesting to find out how much weight Bozo gained with all the free meals, where Sammarone stashed the cash and if Marchionda bought any heart-shaped jewelry with money meant for autistic children.