Cost of Corruption: The Mahoning Valley - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Cost of Corruption: The Mahoning Valley

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -

The Valley's history of political corruption dates back generations, when mobsters owned politicians, and police turned a blind eye to illegal gambling.

Power and influence are still peddled behind closed doors today, and political favors are often promised in return.  Back door deals that give the area a bad image, undermining the government's ability to do what taxpayers expect.

So what is the "Cost of Corruption?"

A long-time congressman, judges, a prosecutor, a sheriff, and a host of others are among those who have pleaded guilty over the years to taking bribes and ordered to spend their time in prison.

Most recently Youngstown's Mayor John McNally, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino, and former candidate for Prosecutor Martin Yavorcik are among those caught up in a political corruption investigation that threatens to take them down.  And while they're innocent until proven guilty, the Mahoning Valley has a long history of corruption that seems to repeat itself.

Flashback to the 1990's when Yougstown's culture of corruption appeared to be thriving. That's when the Youngstown FBI swooped in and did a clean sweep. Making 70 arrests, solving the first mob murder, toppling a mob empire and taking down a host of public officials tainted by the mob's influence and illegal campaign contributions.

Pat Ungaro was the Mayor of Youngstown when the biggest round of federal arrests were made. "I mean how many prosecutors, sheriffs and judges and county commissioners went to prison along with Lenny Strollo and all the Mafia people. It was real. It wasn't a phony thing. It was real," Ungaro said.

Ungaro admitted that there were numerous attempts by the mob and others to bribe him.

"I was approached by legitimate bad people, those are people that represent the Mafia. I've been approached by wealthy people. I said no. Period. End of story," Ungaro said.

According to Ungaro, there was a high price to pay for the Valley because of the corruption. Justice was for sale in the courts, some public contracts were rigged and honest people did not want to do business here. Ungaro experienced it first hand.

"They did studies on the Valley, and they said it's a great labor force. They have all the utilities, everything you need for a great site for development, but they're controlled. The area's generally controlled by organized crime, and that includes public officials and that includes unions."

In fact, in order to get legitimate business to come to Youngstown and do business in areas like the Salt Springs Road Industrial Park, Ungaro had to literally give property away for free.

"We got 10-year tax abatements, gave the land away free, put in water lines, sewer lines, roads," he said.

Ungaro also fought the corruption by taking on the mob head-on, despite threats on his life. Along with his police chief, he seized nearly 180 poker machines that generated millions of dollars for the Mafia's illegal activities.  And he said changing the area's mindset may have been the most difficult part of all.

"I always said, you guys have been doing things wrong so long, you think it's right and it's not right," Ungaro said.

In part two, Michelle Nicks will take an in-depth look at how another community not far from Youngstown has fought to distance itself from it's history of corruption, and the lessons the Valley could learn from their mistakes.


 

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