State witness supports Infante
WARREN — A state witness who gave embattled former Niles mayor Ralph Infante $1,000 in cash every December worked to make sure she did not say anything negative against her friend without providing a full explanation.
Karen DeChristofaro testified that from 2009 through 2014, she went to the mayor’s office in mid-December to give him envelopes filled with cash. DeChristofaro has worked for the city since the late 1990s.
Infante, 63, is facing multiple counts of tampering with records, gambling, soliciting improper compensation, theft in office, bribery and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, possessing criminal tools, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and falsification. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
DeChristofaro said the annual act was something her late husband, Robert, wanted her to do as a gift to Infante’s grandchildren, who are related to the DeChristofaros. Karen DeChristofaro said she began giving the cash to Infante in 2009 after her husband died. Robert had been giving Infante’s grandchildren Christmas gifts for years, and she wanted to continue that legacy by delivering the money to Infante.
“The first year, Ralph would not take it,” DeChristofaro said. “He said I needed it more than him.”
However, DeChristofaro insisted Infante take the money to deliver to his grandchildren in memory of her husband.
“He didn’t know I was coming,” she said.
Every year afterward, she personally delivered an envelope with a Christmas card and the cash to Infante’s office.
“He knew the money was for his grandchildren,” she said. “There was nothing nefarious about it.”
DeChristofaro testified that when she circulated election petitions for Infante’s re-election campaign, she allowed another city employee to collect signatures for her at the city’s waste water department, before signing the document and turning them over to Infante.
As the circulator, DeChristofaro was supposed to witness every signature when they were signed, so she broke election laws.
In earlier testimony, a digital video recording of Denise Danielson, a former bartender at the McKinley Heights ITAM No. 39, outlined the hundreds of dollars of bets that occurred inside the club every year around the NFL’s Super Bowl.
Danielson, who worked at the ITAM for 20 to 25 hours a week for about a dozen years, testified that Infante and his wife, Judith, were her bosses and operated the club.
During the weeks before the Super Bowl, there would be gatherings at the ITAM where customers participated in block gambling pools in which customers could fill in blocks wagering amounts ranging from $3 per block to $300 per block on a variety of aspects of the game — from scores by quarter, by half and the final scores.
Danielson said the block cards could be filled out by the betters, by Ralph Infante, another ITAM employee or herself. Danielson said those persons who purchased $300 blocks also could attend a dinner at a local restaurant at which they were able to obtain a multi-course meal and dessert, beer and wine and could win prizes.
“I only went to the dinner once,” she said.
As Associate Assistant Attorney General Leigh Bayer showed her the individual cards, Danielson told her if the handwriting appeared to be Ralph Infante’s or someone else’s writing.
Cara Yoder, a forensic audit manager for the Ohio Auditor’s Office, analyzed the money going in and out of the bank accounts of Ralph and Judith Infante, as well as the account opened for the Mckinley Heights ITAM 39 and tenants that rented the Infante’s Robbins Avenue home.
State attorneys were attempting to reconcile the hundreds of dollars of cash payments that were placed in Infante’s bank account.
Yoder reviewed all of the available block cards gathered by the state in searches of the ITAM and attempted to, using the cards, determine how much was collected from betters, how much was paid out, and the level of profit earned over the years. Based on the records the state collected, the block gambling pools took place for nearly a dozen years.
Estimating the amount earned by using the cards collected and subtracting the amount paid out, which also was marked on the block cards, Yoder said the ITAM earned a profit of more than $34,495 during those years.
Questioned by defense attorney John Juhasz, Yoder said she did not calculate other costs surrounding the block pool, including the dinner costs.