Former auditor added to case

New charges against Infante

WARREN — Prosecutors dropped charges but added new ones in connection to the political corruption and illegal gambling case surrounding the former mayor of Niles — a case that was widened Aug. 1 to include the city’s former auditor, who is accused of running his tax preparation business on city equipment.

Special prosecutor Dan Kasaris asked visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove to dismiss a 58-count indictment a Trumbull County grand jury handed down in November against former Mayor Ralph Infante, his wife Judith Infante, the bar they owned and a city employee.

Scott Shaffer, 41, a Niles Water Department employee charged with two counts of theft in office in the original November indictment, was dropped from the case.

Kasaris introduced a superseding indictment that reduces the charges against the former mayor from 56 to 41, of which 29 are felonies. The new indictment drops charges of money laundering, filing a false disclosure statement and obstruction of justice; and reduces the counts against him on charges of possessing criminal tools, soliciting improper compensation and theft in office. However, the new indictment adds four new bribery charges to the four included in the previous indictment.

“Get out while you still can,” Cosgrove told Shaffer, who was accused of selling city property for profit, after the charges against him were dismissed.

Charles Nader, 64, of Niles, who ended his tenure as Niles auditor in 2015 after nearly 10 years in office, is facing nine charges — theft in office, two counts of tampering with records, having an unlawful interest in a public contract, three counts of representation by a public official or employee and two counts of falsification.

Judge Cosgrove said Nader will be summoned to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court to be arraigned on the charges and scheduled a hearing date of Sept. 13. Nader was not present at the Tuesday hearing.

Nader is accused of using city computers and servers for his private tax preparation business and failing to list income he received in 2008 and 2012 from a company in business with the city that he did tax work for on city computers, according to the indictment. Nader is also accused of making false statements to Ohio officials in 2014 and 2016.

The new indictment against Judith Infante, 68, drops felony charges of theft and engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, and reduces the number of counts on charges of tampering with records from nine to seven.

The new indictment maintains five of the seven charges filed against the McKinley Height’s Italian American War Veterans Post No. 39 operated by the Infantes. Two counts of illegal gambling and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity remain, while charges of operating a gambling house and possessing criminal tools were reduced from two counts each to one.

The Infantes pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and Ralph Infante pleaded not guilty on behalf of the ITAM.

A new trial date was set for Dec. 11. Kasaris said there is new evidence the prosecution will be turning over to the defense.

Personal recognizance bond was continued for the Infantes.

Cosgrove has ordered the involved parties not to speak to the media about the case.

The new indictment maintains accusations the former mayor was taking bets on sporting events at his bar, and failed to disclose gambling payouts on ethics forms.

The new bribery charges against Infante, 61, add to claims in a 2016 bill of particulars that outline instances in 1993, two in 1995 and in 1997, when prosecutors claim Infante received free lawn and construction services and cash in four separate instances in exchange for handing out city jobs.

The new bribery charges claim Ralph Infante accepted $2,500 or the same value in landscaping services from an unnamed person in 2003 in exchange for a full-time job, according to documents from the prosecution outlining the case.

In 2012, 2014 and in 2015, Infante is newly accused of accepting thousands of dollars in exchange for hires, the documents state.

Infante took more than $10,000 in exchange for jobs and promotions and ordered city employees to work on private property “at a large complex on Route 422 in the City of Niles where people shop, for free and costing the city of Niles thousands of dollars in overtime charges to the city of Niles for work that should have been done by the property owner and paid for by the property owner,” according to the prosecution.

Infante also allowed city employees to sell city property, without turning the cash over to the city’s coffers, waived $40,000 in building fees illegally for a local company, hired and rehired family members and asked employees to sell political fundraising tickets, the indictment states.

“From 1992 to January 2016, the common purpose of the enterprise regarding its ongoing illegal conduct was to create sources of money and power of Ralph Infante through bribery, theft in office, the misuse of city owned property, paying employees contrary to law, gambling for profit and to hide the proceeds of illegal activity including bribe monies, gift monies and gambling from governmental agencies such as the Ohio Ethics Commissions, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the State of Ohio Department of Taxation and the City of Niles Income Tax Department,” the prosecution states.

To keep the enterprise quiet, Infante used intimidation and centralized his power — for example, he eliminated the civil service commission’s ability to select hires outside the safety forces “paving the way for Infante to accept cash, a television, an air conditioning unit, services for him and his relatives and other benefits in return for city employment,” the indictment states.

rfox@tribtoday.com