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Plea deals smart move for all

The latest chapter in a voluminous collection of books on political corruption in the Mahoning Valley will be written Sept. 3 when a judge sentences ex-Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich and downtown developer Dominic Marchionda.

The two took plea deals late last week to avoid trials on much more serious charges.

It was a smart move for all involved.

Prosecutors got both to plead to felony convictions, which is always a goal.

Marchionda and Bozanich avoided trials, and the deals they took are significantly reduced from the numerous felonies they faced, which included engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, the state equivalent to racketeering.

Also, if they were convicted during a trial, chances of them facing lengthy prison sentences were likely.

We’ve seen a few politicians — most notably ex-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante — roll the dice and go to trial only to end up in prison for a long time.

Instead, Marchionda’s deal had him plead guilty to four felony counts of tampering with records, all occurring on Oct. 6, 2011, when he admitted he used false invoices to get money from the city for his Erie Terminal Place downtown housing project to pay bills he owed for his Flats at Wick student housing complex.

Marchionda admitted he created four phony invoices, totaling $260,625, to the city of Youngstown for work that was supposed to be for Erie Terminal but was actually used to pay companies for previous work done at Flats at Wick.

He was indicted Aug. 30, 2018, on 66 felonies.

Bozanich pleaded guilty to one count each of bribery and tampering with records, both felonies, and two misdemeanor counts of unlawful compensation of a public official. The unlawful compensation counts were initially bribery and the tampering conviction was reduced from aggravated theft.

Bozanich had been indicted on 18 felonies.

The bribery conviction was for accepting free golf from Raymond Briya, a former MS Consultants Inc. chief financial officer, so his company “could secure work for or within the city of Youngstown, then devised a scheme to hide the benefits,” according to the indictment.

The tampering with records conviction involved Bozanich working a con to balance Youngstown’s finances by convincing city council to agree to give $1.2 million to Marchionda from the water fund if the developer turned around and gave $1 million back to the city’s general fund in December 2009 to buy the Madison Avenue fire station property. That happened just six weeks after council, acting on Bozanich’s advice, had agreed to sell the property for $10.

No one on city council saw this as improper — or a­­t least turned a blind eye to it in order to bail out the general fund. I wrote extensively about it at the time with a lot of shoulder shrugs from council members and double talk from Bozanich.

But Richard Poland, who works for the Ohio auditor and was conducting audits of Youngstown at the time, said during a January hearing in this case that he read about it in the newspaper, which helped jump start the investigation. At least someone was paying attention.

Marchionda faces up to 12 years in prison, while Bozanich’s maximum sentence is six years.

Their attorneys are asking for probation or community control. Prosecutors are seeking prison time for both.

It will be interesting to see what Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney decides when sentencing Marchionda and Bozanich on Sept. 3.

Will this latest abuse by a public official and by a prominent businessman who lied about how he used public money go unpunished like so many others before them?

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

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