Defense witnesses testify in abuse trial

YOUNGSTOWN — Alex Bugno’s attorneys presented several witnesses Thursday on the final day of testimony in Bugno’s trial on 14 counts of compelling prostitution.

Among them were Bugno’s father, two men who have lived at the Bugno Towing shop on East Indianola Avenue, several former employees and a woman too sick to testify in person.

Closing arguments and jury deliberation are expected to begin sometime today. Bugno, 31, of Clingan Road, Poland, could get more than 10 years in prison if he is convicted of paying boys 16 and 17 years old between $200 and $500 each time they engaged in sexual activity with him at one of the former Bugno Towing business locations in the city.

Chris Bugno, Alex Bugno’s father, testified that he started Bugno Towing in the 1980s and made Alex a co-owner around 2009. They opened a Garland Avenue location in 2012 and had 12 tow trucks and employed about a dozen drivers.

Both locations were open 24 hours per day, seven days per week and had workers and customers coming and going at all hours of the day and night, he said.

He testified the father of one of his son’s accusers worked for him until sometime in 2014 when he terminated the father because he “wouldn’t show up for work.” During the father’s testimony earlier in the trial, he strongly denied he was terminated.

Martha Heffron, who lives near the accusers and knew them since they were very young, was unable to testify in person, but the prosecution and defense questioned her a year ago. A transcript of that interview was read to jurors Thursday because Heffron was deemed too ill to testify in person.

Heffron, 76, testified that one of the two accusers told her shortly after he was released from a youth mental health facility in 2014 that he made up the allegations against Bugno. “I lied. I only told them what they wanted to hear,” she said of the boy’s remarks.

Under cross examination by Assistant Prosecutor Steve Yacovone, she agreed she never went to police to tell them about the conversation and is related to the Bugno family by marriage.

Two of the witnesses appeared to bolster defense claims that Bugno Towing was busy with drivers, dispatchers and customers during the first half of 2014 when Bugno is accused of committing the crimes in the company’s two buildings.

One man lived in the Indianola facility in 2014 when he was having marital issues and answered the telephone for the business while he lived there.

Robert McLarron, 31, who had been living at the Indianola location since 2006, except for a short time while he was in jail on a DUI, testified he is there every day and sleeps there every night.

He said he knew the two accusers but never saw Bugno at the shop in the early-morning hours with either of them. The early-morning hours are one of the times the offenses were alleged to have occurred.

McLarron did see a video on a computer he got from Bugno depicting Bugno engaged in sexual activity with another male, he said. The two accusers saw the video with him, he testified.