Judge pleads guilty to more than $100,000 theft

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Former Mahoning County Judge Diane Vettori-Caraballo on Monday pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from a more than $100,000 theft from the estate of her deceased client.

Vettori-Caraballo, 50, of Youngstown, previously accepted, then rejected plea deals on her felony counts of mail fraud, structuring cash deposits and making false statements to law enforcement. But she filed Friday to plead guilty to those charges. She was set for trial March 4.

Prosecutors dropped her single count of making and subscribing a false tax return, according to court records.

Vettori-Caraballo’s husband, retired Youngstown police officer Ismael Caraballo, 60, on Monday also pleaded guilty to a count of failing to pay tax, modified from a count of filing a false tax return.

Both are set for sentencing June 13 before Judge Dan Aaron Polster at the federal courthouse in Cleveland. The court ordered pre-sentence investigations in both cases.

Both were federally indicted in November.

Vettori-Caraballo — who helped her client Dolores Falgiani prepare a will and provided estate planning services for her brother, Robert Sampson — was accused of stealing between $100,200 and $328,000 Falgiani had stored in shoeboxes at her Boardman home before her death in March 2016.

Vettori-Caraballo then structured 22 deposits of the stolen cash across five different banks over the course of four weeks, to skirt regulations requiring banks to report cash transactions of more than $10,000 to the IRS.

She also lied to FBI agents about the theft and illegal deposits, claiming she hadn’t “received a nickel” from Falgiani’s estate and instead claimed the money came from her husband’s retirement account, according to prosecutors.

Vettori-Caraballo used the money to pay about $58,000 in debt on 35 credit cards, according to FBI special agent Deane Hassman, who investigated Vettori-Caraballo’s administration of the two estates and who testified in a concurrent probate case regarding the concealment of those assets from the court.

Vettori-Caraballo was elected judge of the Mahoning County Area Court in Sebring in 2002 and re-elected twice, according to a Monday release. She was suspended from the seat in January 2018, after criminal charges were filed.

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