WARREN - The $36,551 loan former Trumbull County commissioner James Tsagaris took from Anthony Cafaro Sr., the retired president of the Cafaro Co., was to help Tsagaris complete a real estate transaction, not to curry political influence, Tsagaris said.
''Not true at all,'' Tsagaris said, referring to a recent political corruption indictment that alleges he accepted cash from a unnamed businessman - ''Businessman 1'' - who prosecutors claim paid money to obtain ''improper influence'' over elected officials.
In fact, said Tsagaris, he opposed two proposals that would have benefitted the Cafaro Co.
Tsagaris, who ultimately went to prison for not reporting the loan on a financial disclosure statement, said the Cafaro loan was to facilitate selling his condominium on North Road in Warren and buying another on Springbrook Drive in Howland.
He said his bank, Dollar Bank, required him to pay the money before finalizing the transaction.
''I had to give them $36,000 first before they would handle the other one,'' said Tsagaris.
The Tsagaris conviction resurfaced in a May 14 indictment of Youngstown Mayor John McNally, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and one-time Mahoning County Prosecutor candidate Martin Yavorcik. It does not name Cafaro, but refers to a ''Businessman 1,'' who loaned more than $30,000 to Tsagaris. Last week, Tsagaris said the loan was from Cafaro.
The indictment says Businessman 1 headed a criminal enterprise that used money and benefits, like legal services, for political favors, which included fixing or agreeing to not investigate or prosecute cases, and committing perjury and tampering with records between January 2005 and January 2014.
The case involves the Oakhill Renaissance Place, bought by Mahoning County commissioners in 2006 to relocate the county's Department of Job and Family Services, which had been renting space at the Cafaro Co.-owned Garland Plaza.
Cafaro has not been charged. He declined to be interviewed for this story. Tsagaris, too, has not been charged in the most recent indictment.
Documents provided to the Tribune Chronicle show Tsagaris, on Dec. 1, 2004, signed a cognovit note, which is a legal ''I owe you,'' for $36,551 with a 6 percent interest rate for the loan from Cafaro. The check from Cafaro's personal account was cut the same day.
Tsagaris repaid at least $10,000 of the loan. Copies of bank deposit slips show Cafaro made $5,000 deposits into his personal account on June 24, 2005, and Feb. 6, 2006. Tsagaris' name is written on the deposit slips.
Tsagaris said he stopped paying when he got into more legal trouble. Legal fees, he said, ate up his money.
Tsagaris was convicted of honest services mail fraud because the financial disclosure statement he mailed to the Ohio Ethics Commission was false in that it did not mention the Cafaro loan. He was placed under house arrest, but was later sentenced to nine months in prison in 2009 when a judge determined he was flauting his punishment by socializing and playing cards at a cigar store, lunching with a friend and driving his ill sister around town.
Tsagaris said he hasn't repaid any more of the money, and has been told by Cafaro to wait until Tsagaris can afford to make repayments.
Not including the loan on the disclosure form was an oversight, said Tsagaris.
''I didn't even think about it because it was a loan and I was getting out,'' said Tsagaris, who did not run in 2004 for another term as commissioner.
Tsagaris said proof that the loan did not result in political favors is evident in he opposed Cafaro on two issues.
Tsagaris opposed Cafaro's proposal to move Trumbull County's Department of Job and Family Services agency into the former Sam's Club near the Eastwood Mall. Tsagaris said he thought the offices should stay in downtown Warren. The office ended up being moved to a former Ohio Edison building on North Park Avenue.
''It wasn't the place to go and I said 'no','' said Tsagaris of Sam's Club, where Burlington Coat Factory is now.
Tsagaris supported the dissolution of the Trumbull County Convention and Visitors Bureau, a move that was detrimental to Cafaro, he said, because the agency gave $50,000 a year to market the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the baseball team playing at Cafaro Field at the Cafaro-owned Eastwood Mall.