No. 10: Infante gets in legal trouble

Editor’s note: This is No. 10 of the top 10 stories of 2017 voted on by employees of the Tribune Chronicle.

The former mayor of Niles will have to wait until 2018 to find out his fate from a multi-count indictment charging him with engaging in a pattern of corruption and running a gambling house during his two-plus decades in office.

Ralph Infante, 62, who lost the mayor’s office in a 2015 primary election battle to Thomas Scarnecchia, spent most of 2017 fighting the indictment through a series of legal maneuvers made through his attorney, John Juhasz.

The trial, which had been scheduled to start Dec. 11, has been moved to Feb. 25, 2018, and will be presided over by visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove, a retired Summit County jurist who has spent considerable time in a Trumbull County courtroom over the years, most notably in hearing an appeal from convicted killer Danny Lee Hill.

Infante’s case, which includes co-defendants wife Judy Infante and former city auditor Charles Nader, is being prosecuted by Daniel Kasaris of the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Kasaris first brought a 58-count indictment against Infante in November 2016, but in August 2017, that indictment was superceded by a 50-count document that included charges against Infante of 16 counts of tampering with records; two counts of gambling; two counts of operating a gambling house; seven counts of soliciting improper compensation; two counts of theft in office; eight counts of bribery; and single counts of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, possessing criminal tools, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and a misdemeanor falsification charge.

The charges dealt with impropriety Infante is accused of committing during his term of office, which began in 1992 and ended Jan. 1, 2016.

In September, Juhasz filed a motion to suppress evidence and dismiss the indictment based on a Feb. 1, 2016, raid of Judy and Ralph Infante’s North Rhodes Avenue home. Juhasz in the filing claimed the raid was conducted illegally by state and local investigators because the Infantes did not own the home at the time.

At the November hearing, Juhasz said that Judy Infante’s daughter and husband lived at the home at the time of the raid, and agents had unlawfully gone into rooms in the home they were not supposed to enter.

Kasaris said he believes the judge who signed the warrant, W. Wyatt McKay, heard testimonies from investigators about the subject of their search prior to authorizing the act. A search was also made of Infante’s club, the ITAM 39 location in McKinley Heights, the site of the gambling house alleged in the indictment.

A decision from the Nov. 2 suppression hearing has not yet been made by Cosgrove, according to court records. A final pretrial is set for Feb. 6, 2018.

Cosgrove also has issued a gag order in the case, causing participants to refuse comment.