Judge rules for state in Infante case

Also sets new trial date for April 23

Tribune Chronicle file photo / R. Michael Semple Former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, seated at right, listens as his attorney, John Juhasz, left, makes a point during a suppression hearing in November. Infante faces dozens of charges related to corruption and theft in office.

WARREN — A visiting judge has overruled defense motions asking to suppress evidence and dismiss charges against former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante.

In separate rulings made earlier, former Summit County Judge Patricia Cosgrove ruled in favor of the state and agreed with a defense motion for a continuance, rescheduling a trial that was to begin Monday to a new trial date of April 23.

Ralph Infante, 62, who lost the mayor’s office in a 2015 primary election battle to Thomas Scarnecchia, faces a 50-count indictment that includes 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.

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.

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, defense attorney John 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.

However, in her ruling, Cosgrove states records from the Trumbull County Auditor’s office show Infante owned the house until July 2016.

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. However, in her ruling, Cosgrove states Infante had not demonstrated that certain items seized during the search belonged to his family members and not to him and neither did family members come forward to assert their rights to that property.

Cosgrove also refuted defense claims that probable cause was not established for getting a search warrant of the home.

The judge said Sheriff’s Office detective Michael Yannucci set forth 36 paragraphs of case background information and set forth five separate categories of documents investigators thought might be evidence of tampering with evidence, bribery, theft, theft in office and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

“The circumstances set out in the affidavit … certainly warrant suspicion and demonstrate a fair probability that evidence of a crime would be found in defendant’s home,” Cosgrove wrote.

Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay, who signed the search warrant, heard testimony from investigators about the subject of their search prior to his signing the warrant.

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.

As for defense claims that they have been prejudiced by delays in prosecution, Cosgrove refuted that charge by writing the investigation against Infante started in 2014, and this “is not a delay that can be imputed to the State under the circumstances of this case.”

The judge, who had issued a gag order in the case causing participants to refuse comment, also did not set any pretrials, but has set a March 9 teleconference status hearing with attorneys and issued an April 13 deadline for attorneys to file final motions, jury instructions and submit trial witness and exhibits lists.