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With the approach of December, the end is nigh for the millennial year 2000 — as well as the long-reigning ethos of “Crimetown U.S.A.,” the notorious sobriquet coined by the Saturday Evening Post in its 1963 cover story about Youngstown, Ohio. “Officials hobnob openly with criminals,” declared the now defunct magazine. “Arrests of racketeers are rare, convictions rarer still, and tough sentences almost unheard of.” Maybe the end of a sordid era is in sight. Qualifiers are useful in stories about Youngstown, a city not on the best of speaking terms with law and order. Until now. Maybe. The beginning of the end — again, maybe — occurred in a December past. It was Christmas Eve 1996, a snowy night, when a group of presently incarcerated gentlemen — convicts aided and abetted by a disbarred Youngstown attorney, likewise now wearing prison stripes — in the employ of local Mafia chief Lenny Strollo burst into the home of newly elected Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains and opened fire with a speed-loaded .38 caliber revolver aimed square at his breadbasket. “I would have dove out the window if I could have,” said Gains, a former Youngstown police officer, and for many years a defense lawyer in the federal courts of Ohio. “So I’m no hero. But I’ll tell you this: They won’t catch me unarmed again.” Unhappily for Mark Batcho, a successful murderer on two earlier occasions, the speed loader on the .38 that he intended to empty into Gains’ stomach jammed. Few rounds were fired. But the prosecutor was nonetheless hit, and hit good. (As Gains puts it, “There’s a piece of the slug near my spine that bothers me once in awhile.”) So good and bloodied up was Gains that Batcho and his crew were convinced he’d been “cancelled,” per instruction. But as the hit squad peeled away from the shooting, some unsettling news crackled over a police radio scanner illegally mounted in the get-away car: Paul Gains was still alive. A GANG MOLL SCORNED Batcho’s cohorts on that December night in ’96 were Antwan “Mo Man” Harris, a crack dealer who lived with his mother; Jeffrey Riddle, an African-American gunman obsessed with the Mafia, who bragged to friends he would become “the first n****r ever inducted into the family,” according to The New Republic magazine; and Bernard “Bernie the Jew” Altschuler, who acted as Strollo’s contractor in assembling the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Nobody with a badge went after Batcho or Harris or Riddle — and certainly not Lenny Strollo — because nobody, including Gains, could reasonably believe such a sloppy murder attempt could have been carried out by professionals. The professionals made themselves scarce for a while. But as time went coolly by, Strollo and the rest resumed walking the streets of Youngstown � bold and blustery as before. Eventually, though, somebody’s jilted girlfriend, whose name shall remain anonymous, fingered them all. Hell hath no fury like a gang moll scorned. The girlfriend simply telephoned Gains one evening last spring to say, “I know who shot you.” When Gains, in turn, rang up the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the jiltee spilled like Niagara Falls in the springtime. “I know everything,” she told the FBI agents who legged it up to her apartment. Sure enough, she revealed details that nobody but the gunsels could have known. “I know other people they shot,” she told the feds. “I know everything.” So it was that a mob hit was solved for the first time in the history of Youngstown. But Gains didn’t stop at avenging his would-be killers. He continued to talk to the FBI, and even put some ex-agents on the Mahoning County payroll to conduct investigations for the prosecutor’s office. Consequently, Gains and the feds have — that’s right, maybe — thwarted the nation’s last mob-run county. According to a July issue of The New Republic magazine, Youngstown is a place where four years ago the Mafia still controlled a chief of police, the prosecutor, the sheriff, the county engineer, members of the local police force, a city law director, and a passel of judges and trial lawyers. “Now, after more than 70 convictions, the investigation has wound its way to the most powerful politician in the region,” reports The New Republic. “A man whom the FBI caught on tape with the mob nearly 20 years ago, but who has eluded them ever since: United States Congressman James Traficant.” A MISSION TO SICILY Paul Gains’ home telephone number in suburban Boardman continues to be listed in the local directory. “I’m a public official,” he said. “People need to get hold of me. Also I need to hear things from my constituents.” Next month, the plucky prosecutor will join local attorney Jim Callan in heading up an official Youngstown delegation assembled for a fact-finding mission to the Sicilian capital of Palermo, birthplace of the Mafia (from the Italian dialectical “mafia,” meaning “bluster” or “boldness”). Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando — who knows from dealing with serious miscreants after the sidewalk slaughter a few years ago of two crusading Italian magistrates trying criminal cases against more than 300 native Mafiosi — has made the Ohioans an offer they cannot refuse: practical advice for eradicating organized crime and, more importantly, for coping with a culture of corruption that permits it to flourish. Criminal defense lawyers across America have noticed that Youngstown’s special culture has made it something of a professional mecca. For generations, there have been plenty of clients possessed of the need — not to mention the wherewithal — for pricey consigliere services. Clarence Darrow, who used to practice criminal law in Youngstown, surely knew what he was doing. ‘DIGNITY � THAT’S ALL I ASK’ By way of background, what follows is a partial rundown of this year’s criminal justice dance card in Crimetown U.S.A.: � For his role in the failed rubout of Paul Gains, disbarred lawyer George M. Alexander was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to six years’ federal imprisonment after being convicted under the RICO statute of aiding and abetting in the commission of a violent crime. When Judge Kathleen O’Malley pronounced him indeed a “violent” individual at his February 4 sentencing, Alexander protested. From the court transcript: “Your honor, I’m not a bad person. I would ask you to let me die in dignity. Dignity — that’s all I ask. I’m not dead, but don’t let me die with being called violent … Please, take that off for me. You could sentence me for life, just let me die with dignity … That’s all I ask of you. Because I’m dead. You’re talking to a man that’s dead.” Providing he behaves himself in the penitentiary, and provided he is undead, Alexander could be released in 2005. � The man Paul Gains defeated by 515 votes in the county prosecutor election of ’96 — James A. Philomena, whom Gains has called “truly evil” — was indicted in June by a Mahoning County grand jury on 12 counts of bribery, two counts of perjury, and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activities from 1990 to 1996. Philomena is currently serving a four-year term at a federal penitentiary in Alabama on bribery charges, reports the Youngstown Vindicator, the city’s daily newspaper. As part of his federal sentence, Philomena was ordered to complete a 500-hour treatment program for drug dependency. Philomena’s attorney, Stephen R. Garea, said his client would plead guilty to the state charges if Visiting Judge Richard M. Markus would count the federal drug treatment program as his punishment instead of sending him to an Ohio prison, where his life could be in danger due to his previous employment as a law enforcement official. Markus, a retired common pleas judge from Cuyahoga County, was appointed to hear the Philomena pleadings in Mahoning County Circuit Court after all local judges recused themselves. � In another case, Visiting Judge Markus raised the ire of Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery by handing down a remarkably light sentence in the case of Edward Flask, a lawyer and the former Mahoning Valley Sanitary District director who pleaded guilty to improperly accepting millions of dollars’ worth of cash and favors from vendors. Instead of the maximum of three years’ imprisonment sought by Special Prosecutor Victor V. Vigluicci, Markus imposed a mere three-month term in a county jail, the Vindicator reports. “It was disappointing,” Montgomery said of the sentence. “The public has every right to be unhappy with the corruption it has lived with for decades.” Montgomery has filed civil lawsuits against Flask, as well as another sanitary district official and a construction firm, to recover $2.4 million the state auditor’s office said was improperly spent. But in an unusual twist, the Ohio Supreme Court put the lawsuits on hold. A panel of high court justices must first determine whether the state auditor’s report in question constitutes a legal accounting of the sanitary district’s expenditures. No decision is expected before the New Year. Meanwhile, Montgomery is said to be considering a motion for the removal of Judge Markus. � Michael P. Rich, the one-time law director of suburban Campbell, received a 10-month prison sentence on a conviction of obstructing justice. Specifically, he altered civil service examinations for prospective police officers in accordance with the wishes of the Youngstown mob. As a result of what prosecutors called Rich’s “test-rigging scheme,” the Vindicator reports that Campbell police officers — including ex-Chief Charles Xenakis — generally looked the other way when confronted by evidence of Lenny Strollo’s gambling operations. � In March, a federal grand jury indicted Mahoning County Circuit Court Judge Martin Eurich under sections of the RICO statute and the Hobbs Act. He was accused of extortion, taking cash from mobster Strollo, and using his judicial office as a racketeering enterprise. According to the indictment, the enterprise included Youngstown lawyers Stuart J. Banks, Lawrence J. Seidita, James R. Wise, and Jack V. Campbell, a former president of the Mahoning County Bar Association. � Concerned for his old friend’s convenience in getting a proper haircut from his wife, a professional beautician, Congressman Traficant said last spring, “I’m going to bust my butt” [to get ex-Sheriff Phil Chance transferred from a federal prison in Michigan]. Chance was convicted of racketeering and extortion. Prior to his arrest by the FBI, Chance had filed a slander suit against local radio host Bob Fitzer for detailing the specifics of the charges the government successfully brought. Fitzer said Chance warned him, “You’re going to buy me a vacation home in Florida.” Chance eventually dropped the suit. � Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Andrew Polovischak, convicted under the RICO statute of fixing cases and taking bribes over an eight-year period, surrendered his law license in April. He was sentenced to 24 months’ federal imprisonment in June. According to the Vindicator, he plans to look for a job as a laborer upon release from federal custody. � In October, the Mahoning County Bar Association gave a “qualified” rating to incumbent Judge Edward A. Cox of Ohio’s 7th District Court of Appeals. This was despite the ongoing investigation by the disciplinary counsel for the Ohio Supreme Court into the matter of two loans that Cox has acknowledged taking from a lawyer who has appeared in his court. The loans, totaling $22,500, were made by attorney Richard Goldberg, who is currently in prison for bilking 23 of clients out of a total of $4.5 million. Goldberg’s principal client was sports businessman Mickey Monus, who is himself currently in a federal prison on conviction of fraud and embezzlement. According to the Vindicator, Cox has not yet repaid Goldberg. A CHAT WITH CHARLIE THE CRAB Two years ago, Representative James A. Traficant, Jr., D-Ohio — who favors polyester suits with flare-bottom trousers, and who has a shock of gray hair that “sprouts like a Chia pet,” according to The New York Times — saw the handwriting on the wall: the indictment of his top district aide, Charles O’Nesti, whom the FBI characterized as a “bag man” for the Youngstown mob. O’Nesti has pleaded guilty to federal perjury and racketeering charges, and is currently behind bars. “They’ve been constantly on my heels,” Traficant told The Times in early October, speaking of the ongoing federal-county probe of organized crime in Youngstown. “From the information I have, they are due to come with an indictment [against me] any time.” It would not be the first time Traficant has come to odds with authorities. When he was sheriff of Mahoning County in 1982, Traficant was accused by the FBI of taking $163,000 in bribes from Youngstown mobsters and of willfully and knowingly “combin[ing], conspir[ing], confederat[ing], and agree[ing]” with racketeers to commit crimes against the United States. Agents had tapped Traficant’s telephone during his conversations with, among others, Charlie “ the Crab” Carrabia. In one taped conversation during Traficant’s election campaign for sheriff, he assured Charlie the Crab that if deputies under his command were to stick their noses where they did not belong, they would “come up swimming in the Mahoning River.” When the FBI played this tape for Traficant, he wrote out a confession to that effect, according to former FBI Agent Bob Kroner. Besides Kroner, two other agents signed affidavits swearing they witnessed Traficant pen these words: “During the period of time I campaigned for sheriff of Mahoning County, Ohio, I accepted money … with the understanding that certain illegal activities would be allowed to take place in Mahoning County after my election, and that as sheriff I would not interfere with those activities.” Traficant soon recanted what he termed a “doctored” confession, and then invited the U.S. Attorney to press charges. Traficant was obliged. Facing up to 23 years’ imprisonment, Traficant, who is not a lawyer, chose to defend himself at trial, where he referred to himself as “my client,” and to the signed confession as “a goddamn lie.” Yes, Traficant admitted in court, he took the $163,000. But he explained to the jurors that he didn’t want his crooked opponent in the sheriff’s campaign to get it. And more importantly, he said, he had been conducting a secret sting operation that was part of his master plan to rid Youngstown of its Mafiosi once and for all. The acceptance of bribes, Traficant said, was necessary to trick Charlie the Crab and others into believing he was their ally. Besides which, Traficant maintained, the bribe money was needed as evidence. In summation, Traficant said, “The point of the matter I want to make is this: I got inside of the mob, [then] I f***ed the mob.” Sheriff Traficant was acquitted by the jury. One year later, in 1984, he became Congressman Traficant. The $163,000 worth of evidence he’d amassed as sheriff was never introduced into a court of law. In a subsequent federal civil trial, during which Traficant exercised his right against self-incrimination by pleading the Fifth Amendment, the Internal Revenue Service found the Congressman liable for taking bribes and evading taxes. Neither Congressman Traficant nor his press officer would return telephone calls to American Lawyer Media News Service for comment in this article. ‘NEGATIVE EMOTION THAT DRIVES EVIL’ “Tell me,” asks Fitzer, “What town has a Congressman whose salary is garnisheed by the IRS because he never paid income taxes on Mafia money he admitted he took?” Fitzer hosts “Commentary Cafe,” a talk show on WYSU, the Youngstown affiliate of National Public Radio. He is also vice president of the Citizens League of Greater Youngstown, the organization founded in 1982 by Prosecutor Gains’ traveling companion to Sicily — Jim Callan, a staff attorney with Northeast Ohio Legal Services. Callan and Fitzer — as well as Gains — speak with passion about the sociological underpinnings of Crimetown U.S.A. “You come to Youngstown, and it might as well be 1930,” Fitzer said. “We’re just frozen in time. In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan activity [in Youngstown] was the heaviest in the U.S., during a huge influx of immigrants — all of them Catholics. The mob became the police force of the immigrants. “Fear has grown here,” Fitzer added, “and that’s the negative emotion that drives evil.” Callan sees the plight of Youngstown in a more political frame. “We really don’t have a healthy, strong, pluralistic power structure,” Callan said. “We’re living in a lawless society. When you have the Mafia operating the way it is, you have a community that really doesn’t have a democracy. What we have is a lot of complacency, a lot of resignation, and a lot of people who aren’t sure what to do. “Hong Kong was like that,” Callan said, ticking off a number of cities historically paralyzed by organized crime. “And certainly Palermo. So we’re hopeful that now that with our window of opportunity — the investigation, the convictions — we can get people to understand the problem.” BULLET HOLE PROOF Callan, Fitzer, and Gains agree on what The Problem is: the mythology of the Mafia. With their penchant for darkly amusing nicknames, mobsters are often perceived as Runyonesque. At times, thanks to various ethnic and religious prejudices, mobsters have been popular protectors. Nowadays, Callan said, “People tend to say, ‘Well, they don’t really hurt us, and they just do a little gambling.’ “ But Gains has made the case — in his ’96 election, and now again in his campaign for a second four-year term — that wherever the Mafia is entrenched, there is a corresponding high incidence of street crime. For instance, Gains claimed, the murder rate in Youngstown became inordinately high in the early 1990s when allegedly mob-controlled judges approved low bail bonds to drug defendants. Freed from the county jail, Gains said, the drug defendants then killed people set to testify against them. In addition to having a good and restful time after his election campaign, Gains said he hopes to bring back from Palermo “a better understanding of how to inform the public that this whole mythology — you know, about the Mafia being a bunch of naughty but loveable guys who have codes and honor and all that — is just crap.” The fact is, Gains said, “Guys in the Mafia, they’d kill you in a minute. That’s what they finally got across to the public over there in Palermo. The public officials there, they destroyed the myths. That’s what we have to do here in Youngstown.” Gains mentioned another lesson he would like to impart to the people of Youngstown and Mahoning County: “The mob can’t function without cooperative government officials.” That notion goes to the heart of his decision to oppose ex-Prosecutor Philomena in 1996. “I was born here [in Youngstown],” Gains said. “And I could have gone someplace else after I got out of the Air Force, but I didn’t. I became a cop here. And I went to law school and became a lawyer. And I just got sick and tired of candidates deceiving the public, taking office, and then going to jail.” Among other things, Gains has been called righteous. And he’s been compared to a gangbuster of another era — Elliot Ness. “Didn’t Ness wind up offing himself in Cleveland?” Gains said, dismissing the comparison. As for his righteousness, he said, “I suppose I’ve made a difference.” On the whole, Fitzer would agree. “Paul Gains is a sloppy sort of pig-headed and lascivious man,” said Fitzer, who has interviewed Gains a number of times on his radio show. “So those are his warts. On the other hand, Paul Gains is very smart, quite honest, and he comes to office for all the right reasons. He has served as the first honest prosecutor in my lifetime — and he has the bullet holes to prove it.” Of the role of prosecutor in a place such as Crimetown U.S.A., Gains said: “I think what’s happened here is that you had the county’s top law enforcement officer rumored for years to be taking bribes, then you had some of the weaker ones in the system that decide to go that route. The thought was, ‘If the prosecutor’s doing it, then who’s going to prosecute me for doing it?’ Like water, a lot of lawyers took the path of least resistance. “Not all lawyers,” Gains is quick to add. “I got 30 lawyers on my staff doing the right thing. And I’m straight. It just never occurred to me to be otherwise. Maybe it was my upbringing. I don’t know. Look — I wanted to be a lawyer, and I became a lawyer. And when you’re a lawyer, you’re not supposed to lie, and you’re not supposed to steal.” A FAMILY AFFAIR Maybe � make that surely � Gains will have plenty of work to do in his second term. “Oh, he’ll win by a landslide,” Fitzer said. Fitzer also suggested that the beat goes on in Crimetown U.S.A. He noted a recent Vindicator article by crime reporter Patricia Meade, who led with these words: “If Anthony Biondillo bet that his bachelor stag party wouldn’t be raided for gambling, he lost.” Acting on a tip, police raided the basement of a commercial building in Gains’ own community of Boardman, the Vindicator reported. Biondillo and all his guests were arrested. Cash and casino games were confiscated. “I don’t understand why they thought they could get away with it,” said Major Michael Budd of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department. “I thought the message was out.” Biondillo’s lawyer, Damian A. Billak, declined to comment. Biondillo, 24, is the son of the late Ernie Biondillo, Jr., a mobster who was gunned down by an unknown rival in June 1996. Among the arrested was alleged blackjack dealer Mark Rich, 24, the son of the previously mentioned former municipal law director Michael P. Rich, imprisoned for shielding mob gambling operations. Mark Rich’s brother is attorney Michael J. Rich, whose wife is Biondillo’s sister. Sean Barron of the Youngstown Vindicator assisted in the preparation of this article.

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