“Every time we take a step forward, we take two steps back. It takes us 30 seconds to take those steps back and years to take a step forward.”
That was the reaction from Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th, to last week’s 101-count indictment against former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone, ex-city Finance Director David Bozanich and Dominic Marchionda, a prominent downtown property developer.
The indictment – accusations that have to be proven – is yet another ugly stain in a long line of ugly stains on the Mahoning Valley.
The area breeds corruption.
The indictments of Marchionda and Bozanich were expected.
It was about 11 months ago that a grand jury indicted Marchionda and a number of his affiliated companies on a variety of charges including engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, aggravated theft, money laundering, receiving stolen property, tampering with records and telecommunications fraud.
This superseding indictment, like the previous one, accuses Marchionda and his businesses of misusing city money as well as funds from 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.
Marchionda is accused of improperly spending at least $600,000 from city funds on personal items.
John F. McCaffrey, Marchionda’s attorney, said his client did nothing illegal.
McCaffrey said Marchionda took “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.”
Bozanich was under a cloud of suspicion since a July 6, 2017, search by law enforcement officials of his home and the home of his girlfriend.
Also, in Marchionda’s original Oct. 2, 2017, indictment, an unnamed city official was accused of taking a bribe from the downtown developer.
A source close to the investigation told me at the time that the city official was Bozanich, who said a day after the indictment: “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The indictment tells quite a different story.
The indictment accuses Bozanich of illegally receiving 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 Marchionda.
The one surprise – though I figured it out about six hours before the indictment was unsealed – was Sammarone.
Over the years, there have been stories about Sammarone, but there was no indication that law enforcement was investigating the former mayor.
In fact, there’s no mention of Sammarone or anyone who could be him in Marchionda’s original indictment.
“I’m questioning why Mr. Sammarone was lumped into this indictment when 92 percent of it is Mr. Bozanich and Mr. Marchionda, and Chuck isn’t connected to either of them,” said John Shultz, Sammarone’s attorney. “There’s no inference that Chuck was involved in anything with Marchionda or Bozanich.”
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, whose staff with the attorney general’s office on the investigation, said there were new discoveries found after Marchionda’s first indictment.
This was obviously one of them.
And Yost said there’s more to come.
“Our team is still on the ground,” he said. “An investigation is like a ball of string. You take it to the end.”
Yost added: I expect as our work continues there will be future developments. We’ve learned more and we continue to learn more.”
It looks like there will be more ugly stains of corruption exposed in the Mahoning Valley.