YOUNGSTOWN - Despite previously pleading guilty to charges related to what prosecutors called a plot to scam Youngstown State University out of thousands of dollars, two key witnesses in the state's case against Ivan Maldonado - the man at the center of the controversy - on Monday insisted they believed they weren't doing anything wrong.
Ivan Maldonado appeared in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on charges ranging from theft to tampering with evidence. He is the last of the three defendants in the case to face the charges against him.
All three men were indicted in 2010. However, two of them, Maldonado's nephew, Anthony Maldonado, and Ron Granger, already pleaded guilty to similar charges and were sentenced to probation.
On Monday, Anthony Maldonado, a former YSU student, and Granger, a former university employee, were each called to testify in the prosecution's case against Ivan Maldonado on the opening day of his bench trial, which is expected to continue today.
Prosecutors allege that Ivan Maldonado, who had been a 20-year YSU employee, falsified information so his nephew could attend YSU tuition-free.
For much of the opening day, Robert Bush of the Mahoning County Prosecutor's Office attempted to establish that Anthony Maldonado was not entitled to the tuition remission he received at YSU because he was not his uncle's dependent, as he and Ivan Maldonado had claimed.
Bush pointed out that Anthony Maldonado had filed his own taxes and obtained his own apartment during the time he had claimed to be living at his uncle's, and as Ivan Maldonado's dependent.
Anthony Maldonado testified he had obtained the apartment for his brother because of credit issues and that he himself had not lived there, but had remained at his uncle's residence. He explained that he had listed his father's address on his YSU application as his mailing address and his uncle's address as his own permanent address.
Maldonado said that although he had filed taxes, he did not claim himself independent on tax papers or student aide forms. However, rather than requiring his uncle's income for student assistance, he was required to provide his father's.
Defense attorney Gerald Ingram argued that just because Anthony Maldonado was included on a lease did not mean he was required to live at that apartment and that he had already established residency at his uncle's long before the apartment was rented.
At one point Robert Bush from the prosecutor's office asked the judge to declare Anthony Maldonado a hostile witness. The request was denied.
Tuition remission is a benefit available to YSU employees and their dependents. Elaine Ruse, director of YSU's financial aid office, testified that YSU's human resources department is responsible for reviewing and approving employees' tuition remission requests.
Anthony Maldonado said he became his uncle's dependent after his parents divorced and his father remarried.
"I wanted to get out of that situation," he said, adding that his uncle never charged him for rent, provided for his needs and gave him money periodically.
As part of a plea bargain, Anthony Maldonado agreed to pay $20,000 in tuition back to YSU over. He was also placed on probation. He pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor falsification in a theft offense. The charges against him were dismissed.
Prosecutors maintain that Granger and Ivan Maldonado used their positions inside YSU's payroll department to help their friends buy back retirement pensions and decrease a payment believed to have been Granger's credit card debt and provide an opportunity for Anthony Maldonado to attend YSU without paying tuition from August 2003 to May 2009.
"I honestly didn't think lowering my payment was anything criminal," Granger told the court on Monday. "I didn't think there was anything wrong."
Granger, former administrative assistant and payroll manager at YSU, pleaded guilty to to dereliction of duty, a second-degree misdemeanor charge, and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. He was sentenced to a year's probation and a 90-day suspended jail term and fined him $750, with half of the fine suspended.