New AG should review Oakhill

“It dawned on me that you may not have read or seen Dave’s speech for his swearing in. Given your appropriate cries for people to be treated equally with no favors for those in power, I think you may like this. For your consideration ... talk soon. Ben.”

As a general principle, such a message from a key staffer of an elected official would get only a cursory glance from this writer. But given that the messenger was Ben Marrison, chief of staff for newly elected Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, the lure was strong. Why? Because Marrison is a veteran newspaperman who served as editor of The Columbus Dispatch before he joined Yost in the Ohio auditor’s office.

Yost had two four-year terms as auditor and won the attorney general’s race last November. He took the oath of office Jan. 14.

Marrison knew how to pique this writer’s interest in the speech – by referring to “your appropriate cries for people to be treated equally with no favors to those in power ...”

Marrison was right.

Here are the most pertinent and important sections of Attorney General Yost’s speech. The significance and ramifications of what he pledged will become clear shortly:

“Each of us at law has equal value, rich or poor, President or pauper.

It’s why Justice wears a blindfold – identity before the law is irrelevant. ...

The Attorney General’s role – my role, for the next four years – is to push the system toward that ideal, where every person stands on the same level floor.

Peggy Noonan, one of America’s most gifted observers, wrote a couple of years ago that the most critical division in America is not between left and right, or even “haves” and “have-nots,” but between the protected and the unprotected.

Many of the people in this room are “the protected.” They have some financial resources and some connectedness to decision-makers ... their place in society gives them a degree of insulation.

When the rules change, when public decisions create uncertainty or disruption, the protected have ways to navigate and to cope.

The unprotected are those who lack those resources, and that connectedness. ...

There’s more than one reason why people are unprotected, but a major one is the lack or misapplication of the rule of law.

That lofty phrase – “the rule of law” – means something pretty simple: the same rules for everybody, applied evenly and justly. The rule of law constrains both politicians and predators in the marketplace ... it limits both the rich and the mob... the violently powerful and the powerfully violent.

The rule of law is the shield that should protect the unprotected and the sword to punish the evil doer.

But too often, the rule of law is bent out of shape to become the plaything of the clever – used as a sword of oppression or a shield for the evil and the corrupt ... my friends, these things ought not to be.

The role of the Attorney General – the role I take up here today – is to protect the unprotected. Against crime and violence, yes ... but also in the air we breathe and the water we drink ... in the marketplace and in our neighborhoods... protect the unprotected.

And it is the rule of law that is both sword and shield. ...

I am not the lawyer for the politicians. I did not come here to serve the bureaucrats, or the regulators.

I represent the people of Ohio.

The politicians and bureaucrats and regulators work for the people I represent ... those 11 million uncommon people who are Ohio, who build America and make our nation great.”

Given Attorney General Yost’s commitment to treat everyone – rich and poor – alike, there should be no hesitation on his part to review the case file of the Oakhill Renaissance Place criminal conspiracy that is a blot on the record of his predecessor, Mike DeWine.

DeWine, now governor of Ohio, will always be known as the attorney general who refused to prosecute the mastermind of the Oakhill conspiracy, prominent Mahoning Valley businessman Anthony M. Cafaro Sr.

Cafaro, retired president of the Cafaro Co., a leading shopping center developer headquartered in Niles, orchestrated the conspiracy to prevent Mahoning County commissioners from buying Oakhill Renaissance Place, the former Southside Medical Center.

The Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza on Youngstown’s East Side housed the Mahoning County Job and Family Services agency for almost two decades. County government made it clear that if the purchase of Oakhill Renaissance went through, it would move the JFS out of Garland Plaza.

As the attorney general who oversaw the Oakhill case, DeWine chose not to press charges against Cafaro Sr. Three participants in the criminal conspiracy who did Cafaro’s bidding were convicted: former Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally and former Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges; Youngstown Atty. Martin Yavorcik took his case to trial and was found guilty. However, his conviction was ultimately set aside.

The characterization of Cafaro as the mastermind was gleaned from court documents filed by prosecutors. He was the puppetmaster, pulling the strings on legions of marionettes in government. That’s why DeWine’s decision to let the wealthy, influential businessman walk away unscathed sticks in the craw.

There’s a need for closure in the highly publicized Oakhill Renaissance criminal conspiracy case.

The question that must be answered by Attorney General Yost, who as state auditor made the crackdown on public corruption a priority, is this: Was DeWine right when he said that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Cafaro Sr.?

And if DeWine was right, then this question looms large: Why did the prosecutors in the case view Cafaro as the mastermind of the conspiracy?

It is instructive that Yost, like Marrison, also was a journalist at one time.

The Oakhill Renaissance case must make their pulses race – if they have even a little ink left in their veins.