Theft charges expose divide on city council

WARREN — The criminal indictment of Councilman Ron White Sr., D-7th Ward, for theft for his alleged use of the council’s copier to make fliers for his primary campaign has exposed a divide among some council members.

White is scheduled to appear before Warren Municipal Court before Judge Thomas Gysegem on Friday facing a fifth-degree felony charge of theft in office.

If convicted, White could receive a six- to 12-month prison sentence and a fine of up to $2,500. He also could be given probation and no fine. There is no misdemeanor level charge of theft in office.

Earlier this year, the governor signed Senate Bill 10, which dictates anyone found guilty of theft in office would be disqualified from holding any future public office, employment or position of trust in the state. In addition to stricter punishments, the bill would require the offender to pay back the forensic audit cost when the victim is a public entity.

Municipal court records show White pleaded not guilty in August. He was released on a personal bond.

White “used his office in aid of committing (an alleged offense) for personal use: re-election flyer for 7th Ward councilman. The property involved is owned by the city of Warren …” a complaint supplied by the Warren Prosecutor’s Office states.

Trumbull County Board of Election Executive Director Stephanie Penrose said the fact that White has been charged with theft in office does not affect his ability to run for re-election.

“If it is reduced to a misdemeanor, we will have to consult with the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office for a recommendation,” Penrose said.

City Law Director Enzo Cantalamessa recused his office from the case. His office usually represents council in legal matters. Niles Prosecutor Philip Zuzolo agreed to handle the case, according to Cantalamessa.

Meetings were held on White’s behalf at Greater Apostolic Faith Church last week and on Monday, decrying the fact that charges were filed by police and are now in the hands of the city prosecutor.

“It is not possible that he made enough copies that would have cost the council $500,” Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at Large, said. “He purchased his own paper. I do not believe he would have used $500 worth of copier ink or electricity.”

“Who turned this over to the police?” she questioned. “I know there was not a police officer in our office counting copies as they were being made. Someone reported this.”

While not arguing whether what may have been done was either right or wrong, Rucker said this should have gone up the chain of command in the council office.

“If there was someone who actually saw this, it should have been taken to the council president,” Rucker suggested. “We have rules for everything, from using cell phones during meetings to missing meetings. Council members face fines. This could have been discussed, with him receiving a warning and a fine.”

Rucker argues that White has been bullied by his fellow council members for standing up for this rights.

“He is a good man,” Rucker said. “He has and will fight for what is right for his ward.”

Rucker described this charge being part of a power divide in council, which, over the last year has had council often divided in votes with Councilman Ken MacPherson, D-5th Ward, Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, White and Rucker making arguments on one side versus Councilmen Larry Larson, D-1st Ward, Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, Greg Greathouse, D-3rd Ward, Mark Forte, D-4th Ward, John Brown, D-at Large, and Gary Steinbeck, D-at Large, voting in unison on the opposite side.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Rucker said. “It is politics.”

Issues that have divided council at different periods have included police body cameras, a proposal to place solar panels on the southwest side of the city, the building of an impound lot and other issues.

Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold agreed, saying there are some that put a target on White’s back because he fights for things he believes are are right, regardless of the consequences.

“I’ve had it done to me when I was fighting against the massage parlors,” she said. “I’ve had police officers outside of my home attempting to intimidate me. I’ve had someone switch my license plate, so I would be stopped by police.”

“It does not feel right to be targeted,” she said.

Saffold, on Monday, encouraged people to attend today’s council meeting and voice their concerns.

Rev. James Tyson, pastor of the Greater Apostolic Faith Church, questioned what citizens can do. Warren NAACP President Annette McCoy responded that residents need to begin attending city council meetings and monitoring what is happening during the meetings.

“We have to hold them accountable,” McCoy said.

Former Safety Service Director Fred Harris said people have to know the difference between the city’s administration, which does the day-to-day operations of the city and council, which passes laws and approves financial matters.

Harris said there is no way the administration does not know the details about the charges filed against White, because everything would have been sent up the ranks.

“It would have gone up through the detectives, the chief and the safety service director,” Harris said.

He questioned how White could be charged with criminal theft in office charges, when, in the past, police officers have lied about being at work on numerous occasions and were never charged with crimes.

Former Mayor Hank Angelo also appeared in solidarity with White, describing him as a councilman who works to do what is best for residents and the city.


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