Sweeney Upholds Use of Recording in Sammarone Trial

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Sweeney will allow an audio recording of former Youngstown Mayor Charles P. Sammarone to be admitted in his upcoming corruption trial. 

Following an in-camera session during which Sweeney listened to the recording in question – which was made in 2014 by former Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras – Sweeney issued a judgment entry permitting the recording to be used. 

Sammarone is scheduled to go on trial March 16 on bribery charges related to a 101-count corruption indictment targeting him, downtown developer Dominic Marchionda and former city Finance Director David Bozanich. Sammarone is being tried separately from Marchioinda and Bozanich.  

Betras and FBI agent Tom Donnelly, who had been scheduled to testify this morning, were dismissed without doing so. 

Sammarone’s attorney, John Shultz, said he attacked the use of the recording on issues of authenticity and whether it was prejudicial based on the “political conversation” that it included. In the recording, Betras attempted to persuade Sammarone’s son, attorney Chris Sammarone, to drop out of a race for county probate court.  

According to Sweeney’s entry, the defense attorney asserted the statements made by his client did not constitute any illegal action, were taken out of context and aren’t related to the charges against Sammarone. 

Sweeney ruled that Shultz’ arguments were “meritless,” finding that the recording was not “highly prejudicial” and there were “no obvious dangers of its content,” according to the entry.

“The Court further finds that the jury can make its own interpretation of the content of the recording and use the recording for whatever probative value it deems appropriate,” the judge continued.  

Shultz also filed a motion attacking one of the counts in the indictment that involved “an alleged criminal enterprise,” he said. Sweeney has not rule on that motion, he said. 

He argued that there is a “tacit factual acknowledgement” that his client “was not involved in this alleged criminal enterprise by virtue of the fact that his case was severed from the other co-defendants in the original indictment and I have further asserted that there was no criminal enterprise,” he said. 

“The assertions that are set forth in the indictment generally state that we allegedly have a bunch of bad people that allegedly did bad things and because of that they all were together and that’s not necessarily true,” he continued. “It’s a situation where if you have a bank robber in Indiana and an alleged bank robber in Ohio, just because they both allegedly robbed banks doesn’t mean they’re co-members of a criminal enterprise.

The attorney also pointed to the involvement of a “common ingredient,” Ray Briya, MS Consultants chief financial officer, who pleased guilty to a bill of information. 

“After he cut his deal, he’s alleging he’s bribed everybody here, there and everywhere,” Shultz said. “Interestingly enough, he pled guilty by a bill of information to all of all things perjury in frontm of the Mahoning County grand jury so how believable is he?”

Related coverage:

Jan. 31, 2020: Marchionda Pre-Trial Hearing to Continue Feb. 12
Jan. 24, 2020: At Hearing, Beshara Admits to $20K Payment to Bozanich
Sept. 10, 2019: Briya Pleads Guilty, Will Repay MS Consultants $200K
Oct. 5, 2018: B&B Amends Fraud Complaint Against Former President
Aug. 30, 2018: Sammarone, Bozanich Indicted in Marchionda Probe
Dec. 29, 2017: Prosecutors Add Details in Marchionda Case

Pictured: A recording of former Youngstown Mayor Charles P. Sammarone will be admitted in his upcoming corruption trial.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.