Belinky’s reaction to probe fails smell test; he must go (OH)

Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky has had ample opportunity to declare unequivocally that there’s no basis for the criminal investigation of him and that the allegations contained in court documents have no merit.

But by being coy, Belinky has given residents of the county another reason not to support his re-election bid this year.

On Feb. 16, we declared that the judge’s nonpayment of taxes was a disqualifier for public office. Now, we reiterate that position even more emphatically, given the two public comments the judge has made about the probe by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

The latest one came a week ago Saturday in an interview with Politics Writer David Skolnick after the judge lost the Democratic Party’s endorsement to a challenger, Atty. Susan Maruca. Maruca ran for the Democratic nomination for probate judge six years ago and placed third after Belinky and Judge James Lanzo of Struthers Municipal Court.

The other challenger in this year’s Democratic primary is Atty. Christopher Sammarone.

Here’s what Belinky had to say after he was trounced for the endorsement:

“I can win this race. How [the investigation] plays out, I don’t know. There may be nothing there. It wouldn’t be the first time someone was investigated and nothing came of it. But [the investigation] hurt here with the party.”

Talk about a damning statement. The one comment in particular that should give voters pause because of the implication is this: “There may be nothing there.”

May be?

Not “There is nothing there?”

Or, “They will find nothing?”

Why the equivocation?

Belinky’s use of the word may suggests to us that he isn’t sure what the state investigators have uncovered — but thinks there’s something to be found.

Documents relating to a search of his office in the courthouse and his house show he’s being investigated for engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, tampering with records, bribery, money laundering, theft and theft in office.

BCI, with the assistance of the FBI and the county sheriff’s office, served warrants on Feb. 7, two days after the primary filing deadline. They carted off boxes of documents, computers and other material from his office and house.

On Feb. 10, Belinky issued a four-paragraph statement that said, in part: “As a person and as a Judge, I have great respect for law enforcement. … As a Judge, I will continue to work closely with law enforcement. As a person, I have cooperated with law enforcement in this investigation and will continue to cooperate.”

Again, no insistence that he’s innocent, that the state is on a fishing expedition and that he will be exonerated when all the facts are known.

Generic denial

It’s one thing to issue a generic denial of the allegations, as Belinky did; it’s quite another to tell the investigators to take their best shot.

Democratic voters in the May 6 primary want to know that they won’t suffer buyers’ remorse if they support the incumbent. What happens if he wins the nomination and is then indicted on the criminal charges?

To be sure, an indictment isn’t an indication of guilt. But as we’ve seen in the past, an indictment more often than not leads to a conviction. Thus, a black cloud hangs over any officeholder who has been indicted.

Indeed, there already is a cloud over Belinky’s head: In 2011, the IRS placed a lien on his home for owing $32,000 in income taxes from 2008 and 2009; last year, he had his paycheck — he earns $105,000 a year — garnished because of $20,000 he owed on a loan from 2008 plus more than $7,000 interest.

We’ve made it clear that in politics, nonpayment of taxes is a cardinal sin, which Belinky has committed. Add to that the criminal investigation, and it’s clear that he has given up the right to remain in office, let alone seek re-election.


Belinky’s reaction to probe fails smell test; he must go
March 2, 2014