Judge: Bozanich ‘Abused the Trust of the People’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney says she rarely makes comments from the bench before passing judgment on a defendant, but felt compelled to do so just before she sentenced ex-Youngstown finance director David Bozanich.

“The sentencing memorandum filed on your behalf says your exemplary record of service to Youngstown speaks for itself,” Sweeney said to Bozanich.  “I don’t believe that.”

Judge Sweeney on Thursday sentenced Bozanich to one year in prison and a $5,000 fine after he pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to two felonies and two misdemeanors related to a lengthy public corruption probe that began five years ago. 

“As a public official, you abused the trust of the people of Youngstown,” Sweeney said. 

Bozanich was handcuffed by sheriff’s deputies and led from the courtroom after the sentence was handed down.

Also sentenced Thursday were downtown developer Dominic Marchionda and Ray Briya, former chief financial officer for MS Consultants, a downtown engineering and architectural firm.

Marchionda on Aug. 7 pleaded guilty to four counts of tampering with records, third-degree felonies, and was sentenced to five years probation and 1,250 hours of supervised community service.  

Briya pleaded guilty to a five-count bill of information in September 2019 and received three years probation and 300 hours of community service. He also received 180 days of house arrest to run concurrently with his probation and fined $5,000.

Two other business entities, Rubino Construction and US Campus Suites, were fined $500 and $5,000 respectively for receiving stolen property. 

“Through a thorough investigation and vigorous prosecution, we’ve rooted out ongoing public corruption,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement Thursday. “If you think you’re above the law, take note – corruption has no place in Ohio government.”

Dominic Marchionda and David Bozanich stood with their attorneys during their sentencing. Marchionda was represented by John McCaffery, and Bozanich by Ralph Cascarilla.

The investigation began with Yost’s office while he served as Ohio Auditor of State. He was elected attorney general in 2018. 

“The dedicated investigative and forensic auditors from the Auditor of State’s office worked diligently to uncover the crooked deals and underlying offenses involved in this case,” said current Ohio Auditor Keith Faber. 

Shortly before his sentence, Bozanich acknowledged to the court that he engaged in wrongful conduct and takes full responsibility for his actions. “I should’ve done better. I should’ve known better. I should’ve made better decisions,” he said in a calm voice.  He then apologized to his wife and family. 

Bozanich pleaded to one count of bribery and one count of tampering with records, both third-degree felonies. He also pleaded to two counts of unlawful enrichment of a public official, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutor Dan Kasaris requested a much harsher sentence of six years in prison for Bozanich. “Bribery is a crime that undermines the confidence the public has. It goes against the very fabric of what public service is all about,” he said. “Greed and corruption destroys the faith and legitimacy of our government.”

Bozanich’s attorney, Ralph Cascarilla, asked the court to consider a sentence short of incarceration, given that Bozanich was convicted on just four counts from what was initially a 101-count indictment filed against him and Marchionda in August 2018.

Former Mayor Charles Sammarone was initially included in the indictment, but in March pleaded to reduced charges of two counts of tampering with records. He was sentenced to five years probation and 30 days of supervised community service. 

Cascarilla said that Bozanich never personally benefitted from his actions, and instead they were done to help the city during a serious financial crisis. 

The tampering with records count relates to Bozanich, as finance director, improperly moving $1 million from the city’s water and wastewater fund to its general fund in 2009, Cascarilla said. 

In 2009, Marchionda was in the process of building the Flats At Wick, a housing complex on the corner of Madison Avenue and Elm Street for students attending Youngstown State University. The city supported the project through a $1.2 million water/wastewater grant. Marchionda received the grant and used that money to purchase a fire station at the corner from the city for $1 million. Once the city received the payment, the cash was illegally deposited in the city’s general fund under Bozanich’s direction.

Bozanich’s bribery conviction stems from accepting a free ticket from Briya to a golf outing in 2012 valued at $800, Cascarilla said at the plea hearing last month. 

The unlawful enrichment convictions are related to another golf outing event Bozanich attended worth $400, and to legal fees that were waived by attorney Stephen Garea in a case that involved Bozanich’s ex-wife. 

Under the terms of the plea deal, Bozanich agreed to pay $5,000 to cover the cost of prosecution. The court imposed an additional $5,000 fine on Bozanich at the sentencing.

In February, Briya testified during a pretrial hearing that he gave Bozanich $100,000 over a period of several years in exchange for city help with Exal Leasing Inc., a development company Briya had interest in that was building a new container manufacturing plant for Exal Corp.

The 2018 indictment also alleged that Bozanich accepted a $20,000 bribe from Philip Beshara, former president of B&B Contractors & Developers Inc. In exchange, prosecutors said Bozanich threw his support behind city financial incentives for the Flats at Wick, the student housing project developed by Marchionda in which B&B served as the general contractor.

During a hearing in January, Beshara testified that in 2009 he gave Bozanich $20,000 in cash at a Boardman restaurant in return for the city’s support for the project.  

Cascarilla was not available for comment after the sentencing.

Marchionda’s felony convictions relate to fraudulent billing statements that were used to obtain float loan money from the city to develop the Erie Terminal project downtown. 

Kasaris suggested that some type of prison sentence should be handed down but noted that any jail time be mitigated because of Marchionda’s remorse, his payment toward the cost of prosecution, and his cooperation with authorities since his plea agreement.

“The state is asking to issue a prison sentence, but to judiciously release him at the appropriate time,” Kasaris said. “I think he is remorseful for what happened.” 

Marchionda, who was sentenced first Thursday, stood before Sweeney and was beset with emotion as he addressed the court.  In the gallery were more than 50 friends and family members who showed up to support the Poland businessman.

“I realize today that I relied on others when I should not have, that I cut corners when I should not have,” he said. “I’ve experienced nothing short of a nightmare for the last five years.”

He then declared that he took full responsibility of his actions and apologized to the court, the state of Ohio, and his family. “I apologize for letting everyone down. I let myself down,” he said, his voice breaking. 

“I ask you for mercy and leniency, and I pray to God that you will not remove me from my family,” he said.

Still, Judge Sweeney admonished Marchionda before sentencing. 

“I would be ashamed of myself if I were standing here today,” she said. “The people of Youngstown and Mahoning County were counting on you to not only redevelop the downtown, but also to set an example of how Youngstown had risen above the air of corruption.”

John McCaffery, Marchionda’s attorney, told the court that his client’s offense stems from a single project – the Erie Terminal building renovation – in which the developer used a substantial amount of his own funds to complete. 

“Each of the deals Mr. Marchionda became involved with in downtown Youngstown were complex deals,” he said, emphasizing that his client took action to invest in the city when few others would. 

In the initial indictment, prosecutors alleged that Marchionda used at least $600,000 in public money earmarked for downtown development projects for his own personal use.  

“No public monies went into his pocket,” McCaffery declared. He also said that the indictment accused Marchionda of racketeering and theft when “none has taken place.” 

The attorney also took issue with allegations that his client took money from a charity fundraiser for the Rich Center for Autism, which he said is also false and was the result of a “flawed and incomplete investigation.” He said the damage done to the Rich Center as a result was “monumental.”

Marchionda said he “was at peace” with his sentence.

Meantime, the indictment brought to a halt downtown development that Marchionda helped initiate, McCaffery told reporters after the sentencing. In particular, Marchionda’s partners, Pan Brothers Associates based in New York City, want to abandon their investments in downtown Youngstown. 

“They want out,” McCaffery said. “They want nothing to do with Mahoning County.”

Marchionda, NYO Property Group and Pan Brothers have successfully re-developed the Erie Terminal, The DoubleTree Hotel at the former Stambaugh Building, and the Wick Towers building downtown. 

Speaking with reporters after the sentencing, Marchionda said that he “was at peace” with the sentence he received. “I’m just going to pick up the pieces and move forward. It’s been a challenging five years for my family.” He added that he still wanted to do development projects to help rebuild Youngstown.

He said his community service responsibilities – he must serve 250 hours each year for five years – could include work with the United Way, the Rescue Mission or efforts to rebuild the Rich Center.

Marchionda also expressed empathy for Bozanich. “It was heartbreaking to see him walk away in handcuffs.”

McCaffery said it’s his opinion that Marchionda’s case was “over-indicted” and should have been treated as a civil matter and not a criminal complaint. 

The attorney said he believes Marchionda’s reputation as a developer and his efforts to rebuild downtown Youngstown were major factors in Judge Sweeney’s decision not to impose a jail sentence.  

“Anybody who wants to do something good for this city is automatically a target,” McCaffery said. “And that shouldn’t be. What happened to Mr. Marchionda in 2011 could have been addressed in something other than a RICO indictment.”

Pictured at top: After his sentencing, David Bozanich was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.

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Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.