Ex-judge pleads guilty to felony

Former Mahoning County Probate Court Judge Mark Belinky admitted in court Thursday he hid between $7,500 and $150,000 in campaign contributions, expenditures and loans from campaign finance reports in 2008, the year he was elected to the bench.

Belinky, 61, pleaded guilty to a bill of information charging him with one felony count of tampering with records, the only result, so far, in what is a continuing state investigation.

Belinky’s attorney, J. Gerald Ingram, did not want to comment.

The probe, led by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, became public on Feb. 7 when law enforcement officers searched Belinky’s home in Boardman and probate court chambers inside the Mahoning County Courthouse. Among the items taken were campaign finance reports, personal financial documents, computers and notes presumably related to the Oakhill Renaissance corruption investigation.

Fifteen days later, members of the Mahoning County Democratic Party distanced themselves from Belinky, voting him last in a three-way race for the party’s endorsement in the probate court judge’s Democratic primary election.

On March 14, Belinky resigned from the bench, and then he backed out of the race on April 8.

Conditions of Belinky’s plea were he resign, remove his name from the ballot, surrender his law license permanently and ”cooperate and truthfully” testify in what is an ongoing criminal investigation, according to Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office.

Belinky was booked into the Mahoning County Jail and freed on $2,500 following his appearance before visiting Judge Ronald Suster, a retired Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge.

A sentencing date has not been set.

Belinky was appointed to the court in 2007 and won election in 2008 by beating attorneys James Lanzo and Susan Maruca in the Democratic primary and in the general election, Scott Hunter, who is now judge of Mahoning County Court in Canfield.

Meanwhile, interviews in the search to find someone to fill Belinky’s unexpired term are scheduled for mid-May, according to a spokesman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who will make the appointment. The term ends in February.

Being interviewed are attorneys Robert Rusu of Canfield and Mary Ann Fabrizi of Berlin Center, who have filed to run as independent candidates for the seat in November. Also, attorney Christopher Sammarone of Canfield, who lost Tuesday’s Democratic probate court race to attorney Susan Maruca, will be interviewed.