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Philomena deserved highest sentence for state conviction

Sunday, October 7, 2001

"I've helped pollute the Mahoning Valley, and I feel I must cleanse it. I've embarrassed my friends and family and the voters who voted for me. I betrayed justice." So said former Mahoning County Prosecutor James A. Philomena during his sentencing last week on state bribery and perjury charges.
We wholeheartedly agree with Philomena's opinion of himself -- which is why we believe that Visiting Judge Richard Markus did the Mahoning Valley a disservice by not giving this legal sewer rat the maximum penalty allowed by law. The judge was on the mark when he said, "I have difficulty perceiving any form of bribery worse than that of the chief prosecuting officer who controls the criminal justice system," but then he went and spoiled it all by sentencing Philomena to just six years in prison -- to be served concurrently with his current federal prison term.
The former prosecutor has completed 22 months of a four-year sentence in the Federal Prison Camp at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. He pleaded guilty in 1999 to federal bribery charges stemming from his role in a case-fixing scheme that involved an assistant county prosecutor, defense lawyers and a county court judge.
He was subsequently indicted on 15 state charges relating to the case-fixing scheme. He agreed to plead guilty to three counts of bribery and one count of perjury, in return for which prosecutors dropped 11 charges. In our book, Philomena, who began selling justice in Mahoning County shortly after he took office in 1989, got a huge break with the plea agreement. He did not deserve another one from Judge Markus.
Despicable character: The judge's tough talk should have resulted in an 11-year prison sentence on the state charges to be served after this despicable character had completed his federal sentence. Having him behind bars for a long time would do more to cleanse Mahoning County of the pollution he created than having him return to this community. There is nothing he can do that would make up for the way he used the criminal justice system he had sworn to preserve and protect to instead enrich himself.
It does not matter to us, and it shouldn't matter to the honest citizens of Mahoning County, that Philomena was found to be drug-dependent by federal Judge Kathleen O'Malley and is participating in an in-house drug treatment program. It also shouldn't matter that he is cooperating with federal prosecutors as they continue their war on government corruption and organized crime in the Mahoning Valley.
The fact remains that his four-year sentence in federal prison was relatively light, considering that he used his position of trust and power to turn the county's criminal justice system into a Third World bazaar. If you had the money you could make a deal to have criminal charges reduced or even dismissed. But if you were poor or honest, you became a statistic in Philomena's grandiose law-and-order political campaign.
A lot of residents in the Mahoning Valley were taken in by his smooth talk and his crimefighter image.
Philomena and the other crooks who operated in Mahoning County's legal sewer deserve to rot in jail.
Unfortunately, judges and prosecutors believe that even a little time behind bars will teach them a lesson. They're wrong. Sewer rats have no consciences.