Flask's trial will go ahead

The civil case against the former MVSD board director is set for Monday.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Attorney General's Office is ready to move ahead on its $2.4 million civil case against Edward A. Flask, a former Mahoning Valley Sanitary District director, even though a federal judge dismissed a similar suit against an MVSD contractor, saying nothing illegal was done.
Flask's case is set to begin Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
The attorney general's office filed three separate $2.4 million lawsuits against Gilbane Building Co. of Rhode Island; Flask, of Poland; and Frank D. DeJute of Niles, another former MVSD director. Gilbane was construction manager for the $50 million capital improvement project at the water agency.
Special audit: Most of the information that makes up the lawsuits came from a 1997 special state audit of MVSD, which set $2.4 million in findings for recovery against Gilbane, Flask and DeJute.
The lawsuits contend Flask and DeJute improperly paid Gilbane for construction work it never performed at the MVSD. The lawsuits also accuse Flask and DeJute of improperly receiving health, life insurance and pension benefits from the district. The defendants insist that nothing improper was done and that state law does not give Ohio Auditor Jim Petro's office the right to conduct special audits.
Despite the federal ruling, the attorney general's office is preparing its case against Flask.
"We're ready to go on Flask," said Joe Case, a spokesman for the attorney general.
More complicated: But the Gilbane decision certainly complicates things, he said.
Before U.S. District Judge George C. Smith's decision, the attorney general's office was unsure if the trial would take place. That was because Judge Smith ruled last year that the auditor's office did not have the right under state law to conduct special audits. The lawsuits were based on the state audit findings.
But after hearing criticism from state officials about his decision, Judge Smith said he would refer the matter to the Ohio Supreme Court for a ruling -- something he never did. Instead, he dismissed the Gilbane case Thursday.
Judge Richard M. Markus is hearing the Flask and DeJute civil cases. DeJute's case is scheduled for Nov. 26 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Markus and Flask's attorneys could not be reached to comment. The attorney general's office has not received any communication from the judge indicating the trial will not move forward, Case said.
When contacted, DeJute said this was the first he had heard about the Gilbane decision and he wanted to look at it before making a statement.
But DeJute said he has contended all along that the findings in the state audit were not collectable and he would probably seek to have his case dismissed.
Cash, gifts: Flask served 90 days in Trumbull County Jail in 2000 after Judge Markus found him guilty of nine charges related to improperly accepting $2 million in cash and gifts from vendors who did business with the MVSD. Those revelations were uncovered in the state audit.
The MVSD provides water from Meander Reservoir to about 300,000 Mahoning and Trumbull county customers through its member cities of Youngstown and Niles.
The three assistant attorneys general handling the case -- Arthur J. Marziale Jr., William C. Becker and Michael Gladman -- filed a list of potential witnesses with the Mahoning court in the Flask case. Besides Flask, those on the list include:
*Leonard G. Palaibis and Daniel E. Schultz, assistant state auditors involved with the MVSD audit.
*Gilbane company executives: Mark M. Hill, regional manager of business development; Steven G. Honzo, project executive; and Edward R. Valentine, project manager. Documents given by Gilbane to the state auditor showed that Hill gave concert and sporting event tickets, and purchased meals for Flask and DeJute.
*Former Gilbane project executive William R. DiMarino.
*Former and current MVSD officials: Chief Engineer David G. Tabak, Treasurer Alan Tatalovich, and Erich Kist, former superintendent of pumping.
*John C. Mascaro, president of a Pittsburgh subcontracting company for the MVSD capital improvement project, who told state auditors that Flask solicited him for political contributions. Mascaro also told auditors that he paid Flask $34,000 for legal and consulting services and to be his "eyes and ears" in Ohio. But Mascaro severed the relationship because he had a growing discomfort with the way Flask conducted business, the audit shows.
*Patrick Ungaro, who was the mayor of Youngstown during Flask's and DeJute's tenures on the board.
*Robert D. Kelly of Summit Consulting Services, an independent expert to discuss the payments to Gilbane.
*Judge Maureen Cronin, who served on the two-person MVSD court of jurisdiction and had asked the state auditor to investigate the water agency.