Saturday, October 31, 2020

Former Youngstown Mayor pleads guilty in corruption case

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Former Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone pleaded guilty to two counts of tampering with records during a change of plea hearing Monday morning in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Judge Maureen sentenced Sammarone – who also has served as water commissioner, president of City Council and councilman during a 33-year political career – to five years probation and 30 days of supervised community service.

Sammarone, downtown developer Dominic Marchionda and former city finance director David Bozanich were charged in a 101-count indictment handed down in August 2018 related to city funds Marchionda allegedly misused.

The counts Sammarone pleaded guilty to related to his failure to list rental income from property he owns in Florida on his 2012 and 2013 ethics forms.

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In exchange for the guilty pleas on the records tampering change, the court dismissed several bribery counts, a records-tampering charge, a falsification charge and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, according to the plea arrangement outlined during the hearing.

The state also agreed that “no further action or prosecution” would be taken against any member of Sammarone’s family arising from the indictment based on facts the state is aware of, said Daniel Kasaris, special prosecuting attorney. As a condition of his probation, he cannot leave the state without approval of his probation officer.

Sammarone, his voice occasionally straining from emotion, read a brief statement prior to sentencing. He apologized to this court, his family – especially his wife of 55 years – and the Youngstown community.

“I made a mistake. I accept my responsibility,” he said.

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Sammarone could have faced 36 months on each of the counts he pleaded guilty to, both third degree felonies. His attorney, John Shultz, offered that Sammarone reported the income on his federal income tax forms as a mitigating factor.

During and following the hearing, Shultz said Sammarone had been consistent in asserting he did not commit bribery and the agreement reflected that.

“I would assure the court that I have been advised by Mr. Sammarone months ago that he would rather enter a plea of guilty to aggravated murder as opposed to bribery because he contends he has never taken one penny from anyone,” Shultz said.

Following the hearing, the attorney said he was pleased with the outcome.

“When you look at the nature and character of the accusers and their credibility issues that the prosecutor may have realized he did not have as strong of a case as he initially thought he did,” he said.

Former MS Consultants executive Ray Briya, who entered into a plea agreement last September, alleged that he stole money from his employer to bribe Sammarone and Bozanich.

“He is a self-admitted perjurer,” Shultz said. “He pled to a charge admitting that he had perjured himself in front of the Mahoning County Grand Jury.”

He said he was prepared to cross-examine key prosecution witnesses Briya and attorney David Betras.

He also said that the disclosure form is “a little confusing,” in that it calls for listing “the real estate that you own in the state of Ohio.” Because Sammarone was a public official, there is a “stringent penalty” for failing to include “anything of that nature,” he said.

The criminal enterprise count against Sammarone was dismissed because he wasn’t involved in that. “He didn’t even really know Mr. Marchionda,” he said.

Sammarone will not testify in the June 1 criminal trial of Sammarone and Bozanich. “He has nothing to add or enhance the prosecution against the other two codefendants at all,” he said.

Kasaris deferred comment regarding the hearing to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

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The office issued a statement acknowledging the terms of the plea agreement, “the latest part of an ongoing investigation into corruption in Youngstown.”

Marchionda’s and Bozanich’s cases remain under investigation by the Ohio Auditor of State’s Office and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office.

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