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Infante accused of ‘jobs for favors’

Testimony centers around tree cutting

Former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante and Defense Attorney John Juhasz examine evidence of testimony.

WARREN — A digital recording of a former city employee who died of cancer prior to the beginning of the corruption trial of former Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said the mayor hired a city worker in exchange for three to four large trees being cut down in his yard.

On the recorded deposition conducted March 8 by Senior assistant Attorney General Daniel Kasaris and defense attorney John Juhasz, Terry “Ted” Clay, 71, said he went to Infante’s house and saw he had three to four monstrous pine trees in his yard.

Infante, 63, is facing 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 one count each of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, possessing criminal tools, having an unlawful interest in a public contract and falsification. He is accused of running a political profiteering racket. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Accusations against Infante include accepting bribes for jobs, waiving tens of thousands of dollars in building fees, letting city employees keep money from selling city-owned scrap metal and ordering a city employee to use city resources to landscape a former city councilman’s property.

Several charges associated with a gambling and sports betting operation in the Mckinley Heights ITAM No. 39 were separated from this week’s trial.

During questioning by Kasaris, Clay said he told Infante would cut the trees down if he agreed to hire his friend and worker, Norwood “Butch” McNamara.

Testifying he was hired to work in the city in 1992 — shortly after the mayor won his first mayoral election — Clay said he originally campaigned for Infante because he promised to re-establishe a tree-cutting department in the city. Clay was one of three people hired to fill the department, which is a part of the city’s electric utility department.

Although he worked full-time for the city, Clay maintained his own tree-cutting business, operating it after he left work at 3 p.m. McNamara worked for Clay.

“I never used city equipment,” Clay said. “I did not do work for my business during city time.”

It was shortly after the midway point of Infante’s first term of office that Infante, according to Clay, asked him to stop by his home on Robbins Avenue to look at the trees.

Without providing him the value of the service he was willing to provide, Clay agreed to cut the trees down. Several weeks later, Clay said he went to Infante’s home every night after he got off from his city job to cut down the trees.

During cross examination by Juhasz, Clay estimated the value of the work was about $7,000, but insisted he never gave that amount to Infante.

“He knew it would cost him quite a bit,” Clay said.

Niles resident Gabriel Marchionte, 70, testified campaigning for Infante during his first run for office because he hoped the next mayor would be able to get his children jobs with the city.

Shortly after meeting with Infante and two council members during a campaign visit at his home, Marchionte described giving Infante a home equity loan check for $500. It would not be the last contribution that Marchionte would provide Infante.

Marchionte said he would buy a minimum of $200 worth of tickets for Infante’s annual chicken roast, which was a fundraising campaign for his election fund. The chicken dinners cost $10 each.

Eventually, both of Marchionte’s sons, Brian and Nicholas, received city jobs in 1993 and 1997.

After each hiring, Marchionte described going to the Mckinley Heights ITAM and presenting Infante envelopes with cash ranging from $500 to $1,000.

During his cross examination, Marchionte told Juhasz that he did not provide the cash for his sons’ jobs until after they were hired.

Former Niles Council President Robert Marino testified City Council gave the administration permission to seek bids for the outsourcing of utility bills.

“We required the administration to provide us cost savings,” Marino said.

As far as providing the Cafaro Corp. incentives for building projects in the Eastwood Mall, Marino said Anthony Cafaro Jr., co-president of the Cafaro Corp., presented Infante and himself a list of requests about items they wanted the city to do.

“The mayor was reluctant about doing all of them,” he said. “He did not jump at getting the list done.”

Marino suggested they present the list to Law Director J. Terrance Dull to make sure everything was being done legally.

Mark Hess, Niles’ former engineer, testified feeling uncomfortable about delivering tickets to people for Infante’s annual fundraising chicken roast. Many of the tickets he delivered were to people associated with his job with the city.

Niles Building and Zoning Inspector Anthony J. Vigorito testified the Cafaro Corp. asked for and received reduction of fees during the building of the banquet center and their corporate offices.

There were letters and emails sent back and forth between administration and Cafaro officials and his office discussing whether the company should have to pay inside construction fees for work being done on the property.

“I don’t recall a particular person asking me about waiving fees,” Vigorito said.

During the time the Cafaro Corp. was preparing to build the banquet center on the Eastwood Mall property, Vigorito recalled receiving emails from Cafaro officials asking about fee reductions on work that had been done.

Vigorito responded he would not eliminate the fees for earlier work that had been done prior to an agreement between the corporation and the city about waiving certain fees.

Vigorito described receiving a letter in April 2015 from the Niles Board of Control stating inside construction fees were to be waived on the the banquet center and other Cafaro Corp. projects.

The city’s board of control consists of the Niles safety and service directors, as well as the mayor.

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