Law firm denies wrongdoing in Oakhill case

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Cleveland law firm that represented the Cafaro-owned Ohio Valley Mall said in a statement Tuesday the firm in no way acted improperly while representing the company through the sale and purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place.

The firm of Ulmer & Berne was called into question during evidence discovery in the current case brought by the state of Ohio against Youngstown Mayor John McNally, Mahoning County Auditor Michael Sciortino and attorney Marty Yavorcik. All three have been indicted on corruption charges surrounding the purchase of Oakhill Renaissance Place.

During the 2006 purchase, Ohio Valley Mall retained Ulmer & Berne to prevent Mahoning County Commissioners from purchasing the former South Side Hospital, which is now Oakhill Renaissance Place. Cafaro wanted some of the county offices, namely the Department of Jobs and Family Services, to remain in the Cafaro-owned McGuffey Plaza.

Called in to question was a document that prosecutors say McNally faxed to Ulmer & Berne which contained a confidential offer to purchase Oakhill. A representative from Ulmer & Berne said in a prepared statement that “at no time did any Ulmer & Berne lawyer act improperly in its representation of the Ohio Valley Mall Company. The offer had in fact already been presented to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Youngstown and was a public record well before it was received by Ulmer & Berne.”

The statement also indicated that the offer also appeared in news reports prior to it being faxed to the law offices.

McNally, Yavorcik and Sciortino were indicted in May on charges that include bribery, engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and tampering with evidence. The charges relate to their alleged attempt to block the sale of Oakhill.

The three faced similar charges six years ago, but they were later dismissed after prosecutors said they were unable to obtain crucial evidence from the FBI. When the new indictment was announced, prosecutors said it was time for a second look at the case.

Last week, prosecutors turned over evidence in the new case officially linking the Cafaro Company to the case.

In May, prosecutors in Cleveland were not willing to reveal exactly what made their version of the Oakhill corruption case different than the one filed and dismissed three years. However, documents recently filed indicate prosecutors have obtained recorded conversations and phone calls as part of their case. Also included in their partial discovery were documents naming the Cafaro Company and Ohio Valley mall as well as law firms of Ulmer & Berne and Squires Sanders, Dempsey.

McNally was a county commissioner at the time of the Oak Hill purchase.

A pretrial in the case is scheduled for September.

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