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State review of projects in Youngstown is demanded

Sunday, September 2, 2018

For more than 20 years, David Bozanich was the dealmaker on just about every major development project in the city of Youngstown. Mayors going all the way back to Patrick J. Ungaro in the 1980s and 1990s gave Finance Director Bozanich virtual free rein in going after prospects. His creativity in putting together financing packages using taxpayer dollars was legendary in the job-creation arena.

But it is now alleged that Bozanich’s creativity went beyond his responsibilities as the city’s chief financial officer and the keeper of the official government documents.

A 101-count indictment unsealed Thursday alleges that Bozanich, former Mayor Charles Sammarone and downtown developer Dominic Marchionda were players in elaborate public corruption schemes.

The allegations run the gamut, from bribery and kickbacks, to freebies, to the misuse of public dollars to finance high-flying lifestyles.

But the charges against Bozanich are of particular concern because of his long tenure as city government’s wheeler and dealer.

The indictment alleges that the former finance director – he resigned in December shortly before the new mayor, Jamael Tito Brown, took office – pocketed cash, avoided paying golf fees and received free meals and trips. The total value of the largess is placed at $125,000 over a 10-year period.

The 78-page indictment also details the allegations against Sammarone, who was mayor from August 2011 to December 2013.

As for Marchionda, the developer of several major projects in downtown Youngstown, last week’s indictment supersedes a 105-count indictment unsealed in October 2017 against him and a dozen of his affiliated companies.

Last June, after former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante was sent off to state prison for 10 years following his conviction on a variety of criminal charges, we praised Special Prosecutor Dan Kasaris of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, members of Ohio Auditor David Yost’s Public Integrity Unit, the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office and the Youngstown office of the FBI for their commitment to blowing the lid off public corruption in the Valley.

‘Dark side’

We also said the Infante conviction boded well for the Marchionda investigation “and for other cases in which individuals inside and outside government crossed over to the dark side.”

We noted there were rumblings that Bozanich would be indicted after the superseding indictment was filed against Marchionda.

Last week’s blockbuster list of charges against the infamous leads us to believe the state will leave no stone unturned in its quest to clean up government in this region.

“Our work is not complete in the Mahoning Valley,” Yost said after Infante’s conviction in April.

In light of last week’s indictment that centers on development projects in Youngstown, we would urge the state auditor to conduct a formal review of all the major deals cooked up by Bozanich during his tenure as finance director.

Last October, after the Marchionda indictment was unsealed by a Mahoning County grand jury, then Mayor John A. McNally said his administration would revisit downtown development projects.

We publicly rejected that idea on the grounds that Bozanich had been implicated in the Marchionda indictment and that McNally had a criminal record stemming from his role in the Oakhill Renaissance Place public-corruption enterprise.

Our skepticism was also fueled by the fact that McNally refused to fire or discipline Bozanich.

Here’s what we said in an editorial in October:

“We aren’t surprised given the mayor’s ho-hum attitude toward government corruption. After his conviction on four misdemeanor charges, McNally not only ignored our calls for him to resign, but sought re-election this year.”

There’s a pressing need to find out exactly what kind of deals Bozanich signed and who benefited from city government’s largess.

A close reading of the indictment shows that the Bozanich-Marchionda connection involved a number of other individuals and companies.

In addition, Sammarone’s alleged demand for monthly payoffs prompts the question: What kind of work did the company do for the city, and what guarantees do the taxpayers have that work was actually performed?

Given the city’s dire financial condition, we urge Yost to go after the money illegally spent during the Bozanich years. Every project he and Sammarone were involved in must be reviewed.