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Slaps on wrist do nothing to head off future corruption

Light sentences handed down in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in the latest incidence of public corruption are, once again, an insult to the taxpayers who must rely on city leaders to represent them well.

Sadly, slaps on the wrist have been the trend in ongoing cases of Mahoning Valley public corruption.

Elected or appointed local officials who accept the responsibility of working for and representing the taxpayers, only to be lured by greed into nefarious dealings, should receive stiff sentences sending firm messages of the wrongdoing — not the opposite.

The latest cases involved former Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich and two area businessmen. Their sentencing hearings came on the heels of a related case involving former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone.

Bozanich, 63, pleaded guilty to felony counts of bribery and tampering with records and two misdemeanor counts of unlawful compensation of a public official. For his admission to the crimes, he was ordered to serve one year in prison, pay a $10,000 fine and face three years of probation.

He is the only defendant in this multi-count indictment to receive any prison time. That sentence left his attorney surprised, based on other lighter sentences handed down.

Such a reaction tells us the message being sent by previous light sentences is missing the mark. Public officials who violate the public trust should walk into court cowering at the harsh sentence they face — not expecting to walk away with little more than a stern tongue-lashing and an order of community service.

Bozanich’s bribery conviction was for accepting free gifts 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 conviction was for Bozanich giving $1.2 million from the city’s water fund to downtown developer Dominic Marchionda if he gave $1 million back to the city’s general fund in December 2009 to buy the Madison Avenue fire station property. That illegal transaction allowed Bozanich to balance the city’s general fund that year.

Judge Maureen Sweeney, who handed down the sentences, correctly described Bozanich’s crimes as an “abuse of power for personal gain.”

Still, Sweeney disregarded the recommendation for more prison time that came from Dan Kasaris, a senior assistant attorney general and lead prosecutor on the Youngstown criminal investigation. Kasaris had asked Sweeney to sentence Bozanich to six years in prison, the maximum sentence. Bozanich’s attorney had asked for only probation for his client.

It has consistently been our position that people in public positions, who are appointed or elected to uphold the public trust and who use their public positions for personal gain, should face penalties twice as harsh as private citizens who commit similar crimes.

For that reason, we believe Bozanich’s sentence was too light for someone who so boisterously abused the trust of the people of Youngstown. Still, the sentence was significantly more appropriate than the sentence of no jail time handed down recently to Sammarone. The ex-mayor had been charged in the same corruption indictment as Bozanich. He pleaded guilty to two felony counts of tampering with records and was sentenced to five years of probation and 30 days of community service.

Marchionda, 63, of Poland, a co-defendant involved in the case, also received only five years of probation and 1,250 hours of community service for four felony tampering with records convictions.

Also, Briya, 73, of Canfield pleaded guilty to five felonies and was sentenced to 180 days of house arrest, 300 hours of community service and fined $5,000. Briya had admitted he gave more than $100,000 in cash, meals and gifts to Bozanich over a decade, and gave at least $9,000 in cash to Sammarone, when he was mayor, to corrupt them in their official capacities with the city.

Kasaris explained well the damages that come from bribery involving government officials: “Bribery goes against what public service is about — serving the public and not one’s self. … Greed and corruption destroy the legitimacy of government.”

These types of actions trigger the public’s distrust of government. The only way to earn back that trust is with a firm hand of justice. That will send a message to both taxpayers and any other officials that government corruption will not be tolerated.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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