Vindicator Logo

CLEVELAND Deliberations continue in Vitullo-Saadey case

By Patricia Meade

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Conventional wisdom goes both ways when analyzing the time a jury takes to deliberate.
CLEVELAND -- Jurors deciding the fate of Atty. James A. Vitullo and Russell J. Saadey Jr. in U.S. District Court have nearly two distinct racketeering trials to deliberate.
The 10-woman, two-man jury deliberated from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, minus about 30 minutes for lunch. Judge Kathleen M. O'Malley had lunch delivered because of cold, windy and rainy weather.
Jurors resumed deliberations at 9:15 a.m. today.
The defendants sat outside Judge O'Malley's courtroom Tuesday, trying to remain upbeat. Saadey's lead attorney, David J. Betras of Youngstown, and Vitullo's lawyers, E. Scott Shaw of Columbus and Maridee L. Costanzo of Warren, were on hand to offer moral support, as were Vitullo's wife, mother and sister.
A 21-count superseding indictment was handed up June 19 against the Austintown cousins. The indictment linked Vitullo, 45, and Saadey, 46, who is known as "Champ," together only in count one, conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
The government, represented by Thomas J. Gruscinski and Bernard A. Smith, said the RICO enterprise, with multiple co-conspirators, made money by soliciting and paying bribes to fix cases.
2 sets of witnesses: The trial, which began Oct. 2, appeared at times to be two separate trials because the defendants, for the most part, had distinctly different sets of witnesses testify against them.
Within count one are 27 overt acts, 22 of which named Vitullo. The count originally had 28 overt acts but one that named Saadey was dismissed during trial.
Saadey was named in six of the 27 overt acts. In only one of the acts were Vitullo and Saadey named together.
In all, the indictment named Vitullo in 12 of the 21 counts and Saadey in nine, three of which said he cheated on his taxes and five of which said he lied about his income on credit card applications.
During the time frame of the indictment, 1992 through early 1997, Vitullo served as an assistant Mahoning County prosecutor and Saadey as a prosecutor's investigator.
Their boss at the time, James A. Philomena, is now in a federal prison and testified in the trial as a government witness, as did one ex-judge and four ex-lawyers, all felons.
Vitullo, the government said, accepted money from the lawyers to fix cases, mostly DUIs, at county court in Austintown.
Saadey, prosecutors said, acted as a middleman who would extort, or try to extort, a fee for steering potential clients to certain lawyers with a reputation for fixing cases.
Credibility: The defense, throughout the trial, tried to destroy the credibility of the ex-judge and ex-lawyers who testified, saying the testimony was bought by the government because the men, in their plea agreements, received reduced sentences for cooperation.
Judge O'Malley told jurors they could consider the plea agreements when weighing credibility.
Gruscinski, in his closing argument, said he didn't have reputable lawyers to call to the witness stand because good lawyers couldn't tell the jury how to fix cases.
In his closing argument, Betras called the men who testified "a parade of horribles" and referred to them as scam artists who needed the jury for their one last scam.
Costanzo, in her summation, said the case boiled down to one thing. She put her hand on Vitullo's shoulders and said "Do you believe him, or do you believe them," and pointed to the witness stand.