DeWine fails in his effort to defend the indefensible

The Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise was the brainchild of an individual whose power and influence in the Mahoning Valley are legendary.

Yet, businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. emerged unscathed from the headline-grabbing investigation into the unlawful activities surrounding his effort in 2006 to block Mahoning County’s purchase of Oakhill Renaissance, the former Southside Medical Center.

At the time, Cafaro was president of the Cafaro Co., a national shopping mall developer.

He launched a campaign against the Oakhill deal around the time commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt said they planned to relocate the county’s Job and Family Services agency from the Cafaro-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side.

The third commissioner, John A. McNally, was an active participant in the Oakhill criminal enterprise.

Cafaro was identified in court documents filed by state prosecutors as the “Businessman 1,” the mastermind of the conspiracy. He also was referred to as “Mr. Big” and was called the “puppet master.”

Despite that, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine let the now retired president of the Cafaro Co. walk away.

DeWine, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in the May primary, announced in November 2016 that the Oakhill Renaissance case was closed with the conviction of three participants in the criminal enterprise: McNally, who was elected mayor of Youngstown in 2013; former county Auditor Michael Sciortino; and, former Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik.

The attorney general offered no explanation for his kid-glove treatment of Cafaro.

This newspaper was harshly critical of DeWine’s decision and questioned his commitment to ending the Valley’s long history of public corruption.

Powerful individuals

We have consistently argued that it isn’t enough to convict corrupt government officials. Powerful individuals in the community who bribe or otherwise influence those in the public sector must also be held to account.

DeWine’s decision to close the Oakhill case with the conviction of three Cafaro puppets also prompted us to question his credibility as Ohio’s chief enforcement officer.

But we did not have an opportunity to confront him directly.

That changed last week when he appeared before The Vindicator’s Editorial Board to tout his candidacy for governor.

Here’s DeWine’s bottom line with regard to Cafaro: There wasn’t enough evidence to charge the prominent businessman who has long contributed to political campaigns.

“We ran the evidence as far as we could run it and got a few convictions,” the attorney general said.

The former Greene County prosecutor insisted that he and members of his state prosecutorial team “went through the evidence and the evidence was not there” to file charges against Cafaro.

But DeWine had no compelling response when confronted with the fact that it was his office that described Cafaro as the mastermind of the Oak-hill scandal.

The court documents also made clear that McNally, Sciortino, Yavorcik and others were members of the supporting cast in the elaborate scheme cooked up by the prominent Valley resident.

DeWine insisted that the three convictions prove his commitment to “clean up whatever mess was there.”

But that still does not explain why his office described Cafaro as the leader of the Oakhill Renaissance conspiracy.

DeWine also did not provide any insight for why he and his staff did not withdraw the mastermind reference after they determined there was insufficient evidence to charge Cafaro.

The bottom line is that the Oakhill scandal was about one man who did not want to lose a lease from county government for the Job and Family Services agency.

The JFS offices had occupied space in the Garland Plaza for almost two decades.

Attorney General DeWine failed in his effort to defend the indefensible – his decision to let Anthony M. Cafaro Sr. off the hook.

To us, the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal enterprise puts in perspective an interresting interpretation of the “Golden Rule”: He who has the gold rules.

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