YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Developer Anthony Cafaro Sr. and the Ohio Valley Mall Co. are among those named in a 73-count racketeering and bribery indictment returned Thursday by a Mahoning County, Ohio, grand jury.
Defendants in the case also include a Mahoning County commissioner and the county auditor, along with two former county officials. Charges allege "a pattern of corrupt activity" involving company and public officials, according to the indictment.
A special grand jury investigating Mahoning County's 2006 purchase of the Oakhill Renaissance Place says the Cafaro Co., along with current and former Mahoning County office holders, illegally conspired to block the purchase.
Photos by Joselyn King
The owner of the Ohio Valley Mall in St. Clairsville is among those named in a 73-count racketeering and bribery indictment.
The Cafaro Co. is accused of conspiring to block a deal to move county offices from a Cafaro-owned building to a former Youngstown hospital.
The indictment charges seven officials and three businesses. Those indicted include Cafaro Sr., retired head of Youngstown-based real estate developer Cafaro Co., as well as sitting Mahoning County Commissioner John McNally, Auditor Michael Sciortino and former Treasurer John Reardon.
Also indicted were Cafaro's sister, Flora Cafaro; former Mahoning County Jobs and Family Services Director John Zachariah; attorney Martin Yavorcik, who was a previous candidate for county prosecutor; and three businesses: the Cafaro Co., Cafaro-affiliated Ohio Valley Mall Co. in St. Clairsville and Marion Plaza Inc.
Charges range from engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity to conspiracy, perjury, bribery, money laundering, tampering with records, disclosure of confidential information, conflict of interest, filing false financial disclosure statements and soliciting or accepting improper compensation.
The indictment lists the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and the Marion Plaza Inc. as owners of Garland Avenue Real Estate, which includes in its holdings the McGuffey Plaza, where some of the Mahoning County government offices that could have moved to Oakhill Renaissance Place were located.
The indictment alleges, among other things, that the Ohio Valley Mall Co. and Marion Plaza were involved in "money laundering, tampering with records, perjury, bribery and soliciting or receiving improper compensation." The indictment also alleges those named formed an enterprise involving many of the same charges to help block Mahoning County's purchase of the building. The pattern of corrupt activity is alleged to have taken place between February 2004 and December 2008.
In 2008, several players in the saga, including McNally, Reardon and Anthony Cafaro, were asked to submit records to the grand jury pertaining to Oakhill.
According to the court documents filed Thursday, the Cafaros, McNally, Reardon, Sciortino, Zachariah and Yavorcik committed bribery during their conspiracy to keep the building's purchase from proceeding. A statement released by the special prosecutors on the case states some of those charged are accused of committing ethics violations in attempts to conceal their participation in the conspiracy, including providing or accepting money, free legal services, campaign contributions, disclosing confidential information and the offer to guaranty a loan made by a national bank.
Anthony Cafaro, McNally, Reardon, Sciortino and Zachariah are all charged with multiple counts of bribery and perjury.
Among the allegations, McNally is accused of illegally disclosing confidential information, and Sciortino and Reardon are accused of filing false financial disclosure statements with the Ohio Ethics Commission. All three are accused of conflict of interest. McNally and Sciortino are charged with soliciting or accepting improper compensation.
Yavorchik and Flora Cafaro each face counts of money laundering.
Those indicted are expected to be arraigned Tuesday before Common Pleas Court Judge Maureen Sweeney.
The Oakhill Renaissance building purchase has been embroiled in controversy since commissioners Anthony Traficanti and David Ludt decided to purchase it in federal bankruptcy court in 2006 and move the county's Department of Job and Family Services and Child Support Enforcement Agency from its location in the Cafaro-owned McGuffey Plaza to Oakhill.
Ludt and Traficanti, along with county Administrator George Tablack, said the condition of the buildings, maintenance costs and high rent at the McGuffey Plaza made it cheaper and easier for the county to move into a building the county owned.
However, Reardon, Sciortino and McNally opposed the move, saying that Oakhill was also decrepit and that upkeep there would bankrupt the county. The Cafaros also sued to stop the move, filing a taxpayers lawsuit in 2006. They lost on just about every count.
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will, special prosecutor on the case, and Paul Nick of the Ohio Ethics Commission did not return messages seeking comment. McNally and Sciortino also did not return messages.
In a statement, Anthony Cafaro said he plans to plead innocent. He called the charges "meritless."
"I look forward to proving my innocence. The taxpayers of Mahoning County are now paying for the ill-advised decision to purchase Oakhill Renaissance Place. My warnings about the costs to the taxpayers have been correct. This unfounded indictment will not silence my opposition to irresponsible governance.
The Cafaro Co., in a statement, also refuted the allegations.
"We learned (Thursday) that a Mahoning County Grand Jury has returned an indictment against The Cafaro Co. and two related entities. These charges arise out of a 2006 taxpayer lawsuit that challenged the decision of the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners to purchase Oak Hill Renaissance Place. The taxpayer lawsuit raised concerns about the hidden, multi-million dollar costs to the Mahoning County taxpayers of purchasing Oakhill. The lawsuit brought by Ohio Valley Mall Co. exercised its right as a taxpayer to oppose wasteful and excessive spending of taxpayer monies. Subsequent events have proven that this opposition to the multi-million dollar purchase of the Oakhill facility was correct.
"The Cafaro Co. and its related entities are innocent of these meritless allegations."