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Thursday, November 18, 2010

OVERCHARGE/UNDUE DELAY/UNDERCHARGE? WHAT IS IT WITH PROSECUTOR FERRERO'S OFFICE?




As a journalistic enterprise, it has been interesting to the SCPR to do an analysis of the way the Prosecutor John Ferrero manages the Stark County prosecutor's office.

Last week yours truly was in conversation with one of Stark County's leading defense attorneys who asked in a rhetorical sort of way "what does John Ferrero do with his day?"

A good question, no?

Why a good question?

Well, starting with the Marlboro Chief Police Ron Devies case in January, 2008, The Report began to get an inkling that maybe, just maybe John Ferrero is not managing his office very effectively for the good of the Stark County public.

The Devies case was one in which it obvious to anyone familiar with the case (and one did not have to be a lawyer to make this analysis) that Ferrero's office and one of  Sheriff Swanson's chief deputies (Rick Perez) badly bungled the investigation of and prosecution of what was merely a communication problem into Devies and his son Kyle being charged with fourth degree felonies.

Folks, that is scary stuff!  But for the "grace of God, go you or I."  It behooves Stark Countians to sit up and take notice and ask the sobering question:  Should John Ferrero be re-elected when he comes up for renewal in November, 2010; less than two years away?

If the Devies case was the only one that Ferrero's office blew, one might say that the office had a bad case.  Its no consolation to the Devies family, but, unfortunately, people are only human - including Ferrero - and mistakes will be made.

But the SCPR believes that there are other cases and situations that deserve more scrutiny and which The Repository has taken a pass on in terms of some level of journalistic investigation of Ferrero's office.

It was the Devies case that caused the  SCPR's attention to Ferrero perk up and become determined to watch Ferrero more closely from a journalistic perspective as he handles his office.  The Report has taken this project on as a public service to Stark Countians.   For whatever reason, The Repository "powers to be" have refused to do so.

Because of the SCPR's work, Ferrero has sought to punish yours truly by filing a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court Disciplinary Counsel saying that yours truly was acting as an attorney and not as a journalist and thereby bringing the integrity of the  Stark County civil/criminal justice system into question in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Nothing could be further from the fact of the matter.

The SCPR is a journalistic effort, pure and simple.  And the reason Ferrero's complaint got nowhere is because Supreme Court officials recognized the same.

But, again, that Ferrero would go on a vendetta against a journalistic effort doing what Bill O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper, and Keith Olbermann do ("keeping them honest"), should be a further wake-up call to the Stark County public on Ferrero.  Again, "but for the grace of God, go you or I."

For Prosecutor Ferrero's information, one of Stark County's Common Pleas judges has applauded yours truly's journalism with the admonition to the effect:  "att-a-boy Martin, keep up the good work of keeping us (meaning:  public officialdom) on our toes."

The Report has information to the effect that Ferrero has derisively referred to the SCPR as being "our favorite blogger."

No surprise here.  Ferrero is known in various Stark County venue to get irate and, at least once in one instance, walk out when things are not going his way.

So what other matters (in addition to Devies) does the SCPR think stick out in terms of how Ferrero discharging his public trust as an elected Stark County official?

Three come to mind.

First, there is his office's handing of the civil recovery from former treasurer Gary D. Zeigler.

Second, there is his inability to effectively manage Stark County commissioner-budgeted funds for the operation of his office, and

Third, the handling of the James Irvin case.

THE ZEIGLER MATTER

When Vince Frustaci was charged (a federal bill of information -June 25, 2010) with the theft of $2.46 million of county funds (Judge Adams has since said he believes Frustaci made off with the entire $2.96 million in missing money), the question was raised by the SCPR as to when county officials would be going after Treasurer Zeigler for civil recovery under the authority of Ohio Revised Code sections 321.17 and 321.18 and an abundance of case law authority.

Ferrero's answer:  (paraphrase)  "It would be premature for civil actions to be filed as full liability will not attach until Frustaci is sentenced.

What?  You have to be kidding, Mr. Prosecutor!

Well, due to the thorough and tireless effort (motivated by a "public service" motive much like the SCPR), local attorney and civic activist Craig T. Conley, the "premature" label got laid aside and Prosecutor Ferrero, after castigating Conley in the media, thought better of it and finally with the help of Conley, got the people's law office (the prosecutor's office) properly directed and focused on collecting - hopefully - a million or so from bonding and insurance companies providing coverage as well as from Frustaci and Zeigler.

While former treasurer Zeigler has been completely exonerated from any involvement whatsoever in the theft, there is statutory law (321.17, 321.18 and, perhaps, other statutes) and case law that seem to put Zeigler's personal assets in jeopardy to cover the loses in treasury during his elected leadership.  On August 23rd, the Stark County commissioners removed Zeigler from office pursuant to the provisions in Chapter 321 of the Ohio Revised Code.  Zeigler has appealed the removal from office and is denying liability under the law cited.

The SCPR firmly believes BUT FOR Craig T. Conley, the Stark County prosecutor's office would have been in a much less secure position to recover monies for the Stark County taxpayers. 

Of course, "hats off to Conley," but the Stark County public should be astonished that Ferrero's office had to rely on the pro bono work of Conley to get its head on straight.


THE STARK COUNTY BUDGET MATTER RE:  THE PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE

Prosecutor John Ferrero had sent commissioners a "bombshell" of a  letter dated August 23, 2010 (the day commissioners had removed Gary D. Zeigler as Stark County treasurer) in which he details the need of the prosecutor's office to have $288,652.50 to make it through the rest of 2010 without laying off or furloughing some of his administrative and professional (i.e. from among the assistant prosecutors) personnel.

Of the requested amount, the SCPR understands that the commissioners would get back $181,245.08 when the prosecutor's office gets reimbursed by the grantor of a grant which Ferrero's office has obtained for Stark County taxpayers.  (It's the kind of grant where the prosecutor spends the money first and then gets reimbursed by the entity that awarded the grant)

It appears to The Report that Ferrero is asking for $181.245.08 because of a cash-flow problem which will be resolved in March, 2011 when the grant money comes in which will then be turned over to the county general fund.

However,  The Report's take is that the other $107,000 + ($288,652.50 minus $181,245.08) would further diminish the county's general fund.

The stunning thing about Ferrero's request?  He has known since early 2010 that there was going to be a shortfall in office funding and was "hoping and praying" that something would happen to make the projected deficit disappear.

Do Stark County voters and taxpayers what a prosecutor who operates on "hopes and prayers?"  Probably not,   How about some solid fiscal action?  Think maybe?

THE IRVIN MATTER

There is a citizen living in Stark County that is absolutely furious with Stark County Prosecutor John Ferrero.

She (Michelle Swonger) believes that the prosecutor's office undercharged the now former Canton City Schools official James Irvin for illegal activities in his relationship with her son Nick.  Moreover, she believes - because of the undercharge - that the prosecutor's office is responsible for Irvin serving only 61 days of an 18 month sentence and only required to register as a sex offender for 15 years rather than for a lifetime which would have been attained if Irvin had been charged with and convicted of  sexual  battery and/or attempted sexual battery in addition to gross sexual imposition, sexual imposition and providing alcohol to an underage person that Irvin was actually charged with.

Swonger's son, Nick, came into contact with Irvin, who was pupil services director for the Canton City Schools at $101,972 annually, when Nick was 15.

CLICK HERE for a look at a FoxNews (Channel 8 - Cleveland) I-Team investigation video of Swonger's allegation and a history of the Irvin/Swonger relationship.

The question the SCPR has about the handling of the Irvin case (note that Curd talks about her "supervisers" in the Channel 8 video which one has to believe included Ferrero) is this:  Prosecutor Ferrero obviously has as a priority going after sexual predators and it is widely known that prosecutors are prone to overcharge not undercharge (as Swonger alleges); so why the precision and prejudging in the Swonger case, but not with the Devies case? (see graphic above which is taken from a webpage on which Ferrero publicizes cases that reflect well on his office, but apparently omits the less favorable)

John Ferrero needs to explain his standard for charging/indicting to the Stark County public!

The SCPR believes it was Ferrero who made the Devies decision and the Irvin decision however inconsistent they are.  But whether or not he was the actual "decider-in-chief," he owns the work product of his office.

The buck does stop with John Ferrero.

A prosecutor at any level is a very powerful person.  Key ingredients in evaluating them include:
  • whether or not the prosecutor has the proper temperament to be prosecutor
  • whether or not the prosecutor has the wisdom in evaluating cases to make consistent assessments
  • whether or not the prosecutor can interact with the community-at-large maturely  in the face of criticism

On these criteria the question is increasingly becoming:  Do Stark Countians want to stick with John Ferrero as Stark County prosecutor come 2012?

1 comment:

Chris Rudy said...

Don't stop there Martin. Look at the case of Thomas Ritchie. He recently was sentenced for kidnapping and rape to a 13 year sentence and upon release he has to register for the rest of his life as a sexual offender. Big deal. The registration of sex offenders keeps no one safe. It is nice information to have for an investigator, however, it does nothing to protect anyone. The fact of an actual trial taking place with Ritchie posed the possiblity of a life sentence. Now your talking. That would keep us all safe. Granted I have no idea what the prosecutors case file looked like or the wishes of the victims in the cases against Ritchie. However, the prosecutor needs to prepare the victims for whats going to take place in the courtroom and the possibilities of what can happen at trial. For Ferrero's office to deal this case caught my eye on the same day James Sexton got 8 years for trying to escape from a deputy at a local hospital while being treated for an injury. Ritchie got 13 years for rapes, a kidnapping and house burglaries??? I've disagreed in the past with decisions from Ferrero's office but this one really caught my eye. Those people that kidnap and rape are the most dangerous of those that walk among us and that are locked up. They should not be released, ever!