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Cafaro Company officials continue to be named in legal proceedings

By CHRISTOPHER BOBBY / Tribune Chronicle

POSTED: February 24, 2010
  

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AKRON – With her voice cracking, former Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge Maureen Cronin said she was ”truly sorry” before she was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison.

The 56-year-old former judge with well-documented alcohol and gambling problems also must undergo three years of supervised release and $4,000 in fines for hiding a loan made to her by a local businesswoman while she was still a judge.

Although fine money was due Tuesday before she left U.S. District Court here, Cronin can continue to pay the fine out of prison earnings.

She will voluntarily report to serve her time soon after handling some private affairs, according to her lawyer.

When she is released, she must refrain from legal or illegal gambling, including the state lottery, according to the judge’s sentence.

Her attorney, J. Gerald Ingram, asked the court and got no objection from the judge that Cronin serve the time at a federal prison in Alderson, W.Va., the same facility where TV personality Martha Stewart served five months in 2004 for lying to investigators about a stock sale.

In Cronin’s case, she failed to disclose an $18,000 no-interest loan given to her in the back seat of a car by a senior business executive that remained a secret until Cronin’s sentencing.

U.S. District Judge Sara Lioi said the money came from Flora Cafaro, a sister of former Cafaro Co. executives Anthony Sr. and John "J.J." Cafaro. Flora Cafaro still works for the local company.

Prosecutors pointed out initially that about 50 civil lawsuits involving Cafaro’s company were assigned to Cronin’s docket. But Ingram said his research showed that there were 44 such cases, 41 of them involving landlord-tenant issues and another three that were ”slip-and-fall” cases.

Lioi said it made little difference since Cronin was still the chief judicial officer presiding over the matters.

”This conduct erodes the judicial system. It’s a grave breach of trust. She violated the oath she took. Drinking and gambling explains the actions, but it doesn’t excuse the actions,” Lioi said before handing down the sentence.

Later Tuesday, the Cafaro Co. and an attorney for Flora Cafaro each released statements denying any finagling by the company.

”Ms. Cafaro made this loan in her personal capacity and not in her capacity as a representative of the Cafaro Company,” Joe Bell, director of corporate communications for the company, stated.

That statement and one from attorney Ralph E. Cascarilla, who represents Flora Cafaro, both stated that Cafaro has only limited administrative duties with the company.

The statement from the lawyer said Cronin signed a legally binding promissory note for repayment of the loan on demand and Cafaro has not called for any repayment.

Prosecutors originally claimed that Cronin hid the financial relationship with Cafaro by not accounting for the money on Ohio Financial Disclosure statements that were due in 2006 and 2007. The cover-up was from July 2006 to April 2008, prosecutors said. She mailed the documents that concealed the loan, prosecutors said, which constitutes mail fraud.

Earlier this week, John Cafaro announced through his attorney that he will plead guilty to causing an official with his daughter Capri Cafaro’s 2004 congressional campaign to file a misleading contribution report.

During the one-hour sentencing, Cronin said she took the money because at the time she was drinking and needed to pay gambling debts. She said she was driven to the two addictions after the death of her mother and a boyfriend she lived with, whom she referred to as a ”significant other.” Both died within a year’s time.

Cronin told Lioi that she believed that Mahoning County was on the verge of overcoming perception of corrupt dealings.

”Now I’m re-creating that perception that the Mahoning County judicial system is corrupt,” she said.

Ingram pointed out to the judge that Cronin is in the process of voluntarily surrendering her law license to practice and has lost a college teaching position besides retiring early from the bench.

”She has been personally mortified and embarrassed to the point of not leaving her home for fear of running into someone at the grocery store or the 7-Eleven,” Ingram said.

”The best of us have personal flaws. She has demons,” Ingram said, explaining that Cronin already has attended a Glenbeigh program and plans on future counseling.

Most of the sentencing hearing centered on haggling between Ingram and assistant U.S. attorney Justin Roberts over the complex numerical point system used in the federal system to determine the length of prison terms.

”People of the Mahoning County deserve better elected officials.They deserve to know if their officials are being bought and paid for or compromised,” Roberts said.

Cronin’s two prior DUI convictions worked against her under the federal formula, and Lioi said it made little difference whether Cronin was on reporting or nonreporting probation when the second drunken driving infraction occurred out of Canfield Municipal Court.

All parties agreed Cronin is at little or no risk of having any repeat offenses and she was given favorable consideration for accepting responsibility by pleading guilty to the two felony counts of honest services mail fraud in December.

But having been a public official and serving on the bench from 1995 to 2007 worked against her under the formula.

Also at issue was Cronin’s failure to complete a financial disclosure section of her presentence report that dealt with her assets or income.

Ingram invoke Fifth Amendment rights of self-incrimination in response to a question about the incomplete disclosure and later declined to confirm if the failure to answer had to do with any unreported income in the form of loans, or possibly whether there were other outstanding loans.

cbobby@tribtoday.com

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