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A 1-trick pony? Whinny

By Bertram de Souza

Sunday, December 31, 2017

As another year of public corruption in the Mahoning Valley draws to a close, this writer’s preoccupation with the slime in and out of government has earned him a rather creative moniker: One-trick pony.

It’s contained in an email from a regular reader in response to the umpteenth column in this space about the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy:

“When I started reading Sunday’s column, I thought I would get through the piece with the seemingly now obligatory reference to Anthony Cafaro Sr. Bertram, you have become a one-trick pony. It used to be Traficant, now Anthony. Move on.”

A previous email from the same reader seemed to voice concern for this writer’s emotional and spiritual health:

“There is so much grist for your mill – particularly with the presidential election and local politics. I just don’t understand your obsession with Tony Cafaro. The hater ultimately gets consumed with his hate, and that is what I see happening to you. I hope you get over this.”

But there was one complimentary communiqu :

“Bertram, I would be neglectful if I didn’t give you a pat on the back for the very edgy and gutsy piece that you wrote last week. You see, when you forget about your obsession, you’re actually an excellent writer with a very incisive viewpoint.”

What was the column that triggered the verbal kiss? It was headlined “Black leaders in Youngstown AWOL.” Here’s the opening paragraph of the piece:

“It’s too late for diplomatic language and touchy-feely expressions of encouragement. There’s one overarching reason the Youngstown City School District is failing: Dysfunctional black families – or, in many cases, the lack of cohesive family life in the black community.”

Cafaro’s defender

So, who is this defender of Anthony M. Cafaro Sr., the very prominent and wealthy retired president of the Cafaro Co.?

His name is William A. Weimer and he’s the vice president and general counsel for the B.J. Alan Co., which is owned by Mahoning Valley businessman Bruce Zoldan.

Zoldan, who also owns Phantom Fireworks, bought the former Cafaro Co. headquarters on Belmont Avenue in Youngstown to serve as his center of operations.

The Cafaro Co. moved to the Eastwood Mall Complex, which it owns.

Atty. Weimer is not alone in going to bat for Cafaro Sr.

Indeed, the reason the politically powerful icon has become the object of this writer’s disaffection is that he has a friend in a very high place in state government.

Cafaro was given a free pass by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine in the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case.

DeWine is running for the Republican nomination for governor next year, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone with deep pockets in your corner.

But here’s the clincher with regard to the shopping- center magnate’s involvement in the Oakhill Renaissance scandal: Cafaro was described by state prosecutors as the mastermind of the criminal enterprise.

And yet, the state’s chief lawyer, Attorney General DeWine, chose not to go after him.

So, if Atty. Weimer and other defenders of Cafaro want to blame someone for this writer’s “obsession,” they should look to Columbus.

No, the preoccupation with the Oakhill Renaissance criminal conspiracy is not about hatred for an individual; rather it’s about what the individual represents.

If the rich, famous and powerful have free rein to manipulate government for their personal benefit, then the great unwashed might as well call it quits.

The harsh reality about the Mahoning Valley is that there’s always some greedy, self-centered public official looking to make a quick buck, or wanting to ingratiate himself (or herself) with the monied class.

The late James A. Traficant Jr., who was a member of Congress and Mahoning County sheriff, epitomized the region’s corrupt officeholder, which is why this writer was so preoccupied with him.

And like Weimer with Cafaro, there were a lot of apologists for Traficant, who launched his political career by playing footsies with the Valley’s Mafia bosses.

Traficant went to federal prison for almost eight years after being convicted of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion while in Congress. In a nutshell, he used his public position for personal gain.

The roll call of government officials – including judges, a sheriff and a prosecutor – and members of the Mafia who have been convicted for crimes against society is long.

And yet, that has not dissuaded others with malice in their hearts from further destroying the reputation of the Valley.

So, here’s the response to Atty. Weimer, who contends this writer should stop mentioning Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.:

The Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy case will continue to be the subject of critical analysis so long as the mastermind remains untouched and the person who let him skate, Attorney General DeWine, campaigns for governor.

In other words, 2018 will be a continuation of this year insofar as turning the spotlight on public corruption.

The state criminal case against developer Dominic Marchionda, alleging misuse of taxpayer dollars earmarked for several projects in downtown Youngstown, could again blow the lid off public corruption in the Valley.

Former Youngstown Finance Director David Bozanich, whose resignation took effect today, is to be indicted in the near future. Bozanich is accused of accepting a $25,000 bribe from Marchionda in return for facilitating city approval for one of the projects.

Given that Attorney General DeWine’s office is prosecuting the case, which is being handled by investigators from Ohio Auditor David Yost’s office, the comparisons to the Oakhill Renaissance are to be expected.

Yost’s office is also responsible for the former mayor of Niles, Ralph Infante, facing criminal charges stemming from his tenure in office. Prosecutors have alluded to an individual in the private sector who played a role in influencing Infante.

The person’s identity is being kept under wraps, but 2018 should bring out the unveiling.

Thus, comparisons between the Marchoinda and Infante cases and Oakhill Renaissance are inevitable.

In other words, this “one-trick pony” could well be performing the same trick in 2018. Get used to it.