Area crime fighter retires with Strollo as his legacy
It isn't easy being an FBI agent in the Mahoning Valley when your specialty is the Mafia. Just ask Robert G. Kroner, who spent 26 years in the FBI's Youngstown office pursuing the likes of Vincenzo "Jimmy" Prato, Charles "Charlie" Carabbia, Joseph N. "Little Joey" Naples Jr., Ernest "Ernie" Biondillo and Lenine "Lenny" Strollo.
If you wear decent suits, live in a decent house and drive a decent car, you're accused of being on the take. If you arrest members of one Mafia faction, you're accused of being in bed with members of a rival faction. If you fail to make arrests of mobsters on a daily basis, you're accused of turning a blind eye to the deeply rooted influence of the Mafia in the Mahoning Valley.
And if you happen to be in the firing line of a congressman who has been indicted on federal criminal charges, you're portrayed as the devil incarnate.
It's surprising that Kroner, a Pittsburgh native who joined the FBI in 1971 and was assigned to the Cleveland office in 1972, didn't seek another assignment after seeing what things were like in this region. But that's what makes the 55-year-old lawman so special and so deserving of the community's appreciation. He refused to let the personal attacks distract him from his job.
The accusations from former congressman and now federal prisoner James A. Traficant Jr. must have been especially hurtful. Traficant, who had represented the 17th Congressional District for 17 years before being expelled from the House and then being sentenced to eight years behind bars, not only drew attention to the kind of suits Kroner wore and the house he lived in, he went so far as to imply that the agent's father had connections to the Mafia while serving as a Pittsburgh police officer.
But through it all, Kroner remained unwavering in his commitment to rid the Valley of organized crime's influence.
And the legacy he leaves can be summed up thus: Strollo, former Mafia boss turned federal government informant and witness.
The turning of one of the region's top mob bosses was a coup because the information Strollo provided opened the floodgates of indictments, arrests, guilty pleas and convictions of dozens of organized crime figures and public officials.
He's still singing -- and not just about the Mafia in the Valley. His connections with mobsters in other cities, including New York, provide the federal government with a treasure-trove of information about organized crime and its players.
Kroner's retirement Thursday brought to an end a law enforcement career that can best be described in a single, but powerful, word: honest.
We have no doubt about his honesty because when Traficant made his allegations, the FBI and the Justice Department investigated. Kroner came away with his reputation intact.
The Mahoning Valley has been fortunate to have had Kroner as one of its chief lawmen.