View Infante’s indictment with a dose of skepticism

Based on the outcome of the much heralded, highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case, former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante has reason to believe he’ll avoid prison time even if he is convicted of the government corruption charges brought against him last week.

A 56-count indictment of Infante, who lost his re-election bid for mayor last year, relates to bribery that occurred 23 years ago, unreported gifts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, selling a city job and gambling.

Infante’s wife, Judy, and city worker Scott Shaffer also face criminal charges.

The case is being prosecuted by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.

DeWine’s office also handled the Oakhill Renaissance case that centered on an 83-count indictment in 2014 of Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally, then-Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik.

The charges stemmed from their roles in a criminal conspiracy masterminded by Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co., to prevent the county from buying Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former South Side Medical Center.

McNally was a county commissioner and sought to derail the transaction. His colleagues at the time, Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt, voted to proceed with the purchase.

Yet, after all the media attention and public interest in a case that epitomized government corruption in the Mahoning Valley, the three defendants walked away with taps on the wrist – thanks to Attorney General DeWine.

McNally and Sciortino pleaded guilty to some of the criminal charges and received probation from Judge Janet Burnside of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. Yavorcik went on trial before a jury and was found guilty of eight felony charges. He received probation from Judge Burnside.

Insult to injury

To add insult to the injury suffered by law-abiding residents of this region, McNally was allowed to remain the mayor of Youngstown. He is seeking re-election next year.

DeWine should have played hardball with the three defendants – as we urged on several occasions – but didn’t. He should never have agreed to McNally holding on to his job as mayor.

The attorney general’s insistence that he is committed to cracking down on government corruption is a rib tickler.

There were other participants in the criminal conspiracy, especially Cafaro, the mastermind, and they weren’t even threatened with prosecution.

Indeed, in revealing the indictments of Infante, his wife and the city worker, DeWine, who is running for governor in 2018, made this punch-in-the-gut announcement: The Oakhill Renaissance case is closed.

In other words, Anthony Cafaro, who did not want the Oakhill Renaissance purchase to go through because it would result in the relocation of the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza, has paid no judicial price for his egregious actions.

Thus, as Infante contemplates the government’s corruption case against him, Judy Infante, and Shaffer, he can find comfort in the outcome of the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy debacle.

Here’s what DeWine said in a news release announcing the Niles case:

“Today’s indictment and the investigation regarding the City of Niles are the latest efforts my office has undertaken to help fight corruption in the Mahoning Valley. The Oakhill investigation has been completed, yielding significant successes, including guilty pleas and guilty verdicts for high-ranking county officials, candidates, and judges. While some matters like Oakhill are now done (and we anticipate no further indictments in Oakhill), we will continue to help local governments, when requested, investigate and prosecute wrong-doing, just like we have done in Niles and elsewhere around Ohio.”

Significant successes? The reality of the Oakhill Renaissance scandal is that a very wealthy individual who cooked up the criminal conspiracy has been given a stay-out-of jail card by the state’s top law-enforcement officer.

To repeat: It’s not enough to go after corrupt public officials. When prominent members of the community force government to do their bidding, corruption flourishes.