The giant headline proclaimed "Mr. Ohio." On Sunday, December 12, the Columbus Dispatch spun a fawning Orwellian tale of George V. Voinovich as he retires from the Senate. One of the many incidents they missed was the part about the then-Governor Voinovich fleeing town after nearly being indicted by a grand jury for money laundering into his campaign.

The fact that Central Ohio’s daily monopoly remains silent to this day on one of the most corrupt administrations in the history of the Buckeye State should come as no surprise. Even when Gov. Voinovich’s Chief of Staff Paul Mifsud was charged with three felony counts and three misdemeanors, their reporting was apologetic and meager. The Dispatch’s Joe Hallett, Jack Torry, and Jonathan Riskind lionize the childhood of Voinovich and speak glowingly of his roots in the Collinwood neighborhood in Cleveland.

What the Dispatch always fails to point out, although it was originally leaked to me from a Dispatch reporter, were the ties Governors Voinovich and James A. Rhodes had to the mob. It’s not that Voinovich ever really hid those connections. He attempted to appoint a long-time friend, Ray Gallagher to an $80,000 a year state job after Gallagher had been convicted of theft in office.

Another of George’s buddies, Booker Tall, was indicted for writing checks to three nonexistent state employees. And who can forget his attempt to appoint alleged mobster and Teamster official Carmen Parisi to the Ohio Turnpike Commission?

But hooking up old friends was nothing compared to the real gangsters he hung around with in corporate Ohio. In one of the blatant and obvious pay-to-play schemes in the nation, Voinovich took $100 thousand from the Lindner family of Chiquita banana fame for his re-election campaign after approving $8.7 million of state funds to the family during his first term as governor.

Perhaps my favorite quote in the Dispatch article comes from Curt Steiner, the Communication Director and Chief of Staff during Voinovich’s first term as governor: “If Jim Rhodes was the Babe Ruth of Ohio politics, then George Voinovich is the Hank Aaron.” Rhodes, as FBI files show, was a small-time bookie who ran numbers and sold porn films in the OSU area prior to becoming governor. And Voinovich is the architect of Ohio’s prison industrial complex – much of it built by his own family business.

To understand Ohio, you need to recall that Speaker of the House John Boehner used to regularly publish the “Washington Union Boss Watch.” In one issue during the mid-90s, he alleged “close links between a labor leader and both the Clintons and organized crime.” Shocking, eh? What Boehner and the Dispatch missed is that when Voinovich was mayor of Cleveland, he gave the eulogy for Teamster mob boss Jackie Presser. At the Berkowitz-Cumin Memorial Chapel on July 12, 1988, Mr. Ohio said “He was a man who loved his fellow man. He made a difference in my life. I will miss him and pray for him.”

So like Rhodes before him, Voinovich did little to hide his organized crime ties. A re-reading of a Life magazine from May 2, 1969 entitled “The Governor…and the Mobster” should shed some light on how Ohio politics is done. The state is sort of like New Jersey without the glamour, and Snooki.

Remember, Voinovich’s spokesperson Michael Dawson called reputed mobster Carmen Parisi “A very good friend of the governor.” When Parisi failed to get appointed to the Turnpike Commission, the governor chose another interesting character, Umberto Fedeli.

Voinovich, as governor and senator, liked to make a public demonstration of his religious faith. He apparently knew the Lord’s Prayer, since he appeared to be the good shepherd to every reputed gangster, and made sure they shall not want.

One of my favorite quotes from the governor’s good friend Parisi, was an infamous uttering caught on tape. Parisi told Teamster driver Jerry Lee Jones: “The day after this [Teamster] fucking election, you motherfucker, no one’s going to bust your fucking head but me, from here down to your prick….Every time you turn around I’ll have someone give you a fucking beating. You understand me?”

Oh, and what about Umberto? Turned out while he was the chair of the Ohio Turnpike Commission, he was also the sole owner of the Fedeli Group Insurance Company, and those who got contracts to do business with the Turnpike coincidentally liked to do business with the Fedeli Group.

Yet, the largest story ignored by the Dispatch was the steering of prison and jail contracts to the Voinovich family business. Sure, the governor’s brother tried to hide it by changing the business’ name from the Voinovich Company to the V Group. The man who tried the blow the whistle on it, Joseph Gilyard, a Voinovich cabinet member in charge of the criminal justice system, was disparaged by the Dispatch and run out of office. And when the Inspector General David Sturtz began to look into the allegations, Voinovich fired him.

This is how Voinovich really played the game. His chief gubernatorial fundraiser, chair of his transition team and his chief of staff (who would later serve time), was the Voinovich Company’s executive vice president, Paul Mifsud. V Group lobbyist and former Company vice president Phil Hamilton coordinated personnel appointments for the newly election Voinovich administration.

So blatant was the governor’s brother Paul Voinovich’s involvement in pay-to-play politics, his older brother George had to promise in his initial 1990 gubernatorial campaign that “Pauly” would not be allowed to bid on state contracts. This promise was easily circumvented when Voinovich decided to give state monies directly to city and county governments, which allowed the V (Voinovich) Group to secure local government contracts funded by the state.

Also, Voinovich ran as a self-proclaimed “environmental governor” in 1990, even posing for a propaganda ad in a canoe. That didn’t stop him from immediately pushing for one of the world’s largest toxic incinerators, WTI in East Liverpool, Ohio. Not surprisingly, the money for the incinerator was linked to the notorious criminal enterprise known as the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) and the owner of record turned out to be Von Roll, Ltd. of Switzerland, the company that tried to sell the nuclear supergun to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. The governor’s brother Pauly emerged as the go-between between the criminal conspirators at WTI and the Voinovich administration.

In late August 1998, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Cincinnati sent grand jury evidence to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien concerning money laundering involving Governor Voinovich’s 1994 gubernatorial re-election campaign. Two complaints were filed against the Voinovich campaign involving money laundering and illegal and improper use of corporate funds for political purposes.

Voinovich narrowly missed being indicted by the Cincinnati grand jury after his treasurer swore under oath that he had told Voinovich about the illegal money laundering involving his brother. Voinovich explained to the grand jury that he had his hearing aid turned off, because he’s a vain man, when the money laundering was revealed to him by his treasurer.

It also helped that a key witness, Nick Mamias, a reputed “bagman” who laundered $60,000 from WTI into a joint venture company ECIC, Inc. with the V. Group, tragically died after slipping on the ice in 1997.

Mimi Myers, ECIC’s former office manager, testified under oath that her company functioned as a corporate shell in order to pay kickbacks to the V Group. Records show that ECIC paid the V Group $114,500 between April 1994 and September 1996. As Myers explained it, “Well, I always thought that it was returning a portion of the money that Mr. Fabiano was receiving as a lobbyist for WTI, which the V Group and Frank Fela got WTI as a client for Fabiano and Associates, and that this was paying them back for doing that.”

Can you say kickback?

The real legacy of George V. Voinovich is one of systemic pay-to-play corruption, kickbacks, and cronyism. Mr. Ohio, indeed.


Bob Fitrakis is the author of The Fitrakis Files: The Brothers Voinovich and the Ohiogate Scandal, which includes the article “The V Report” voted the Best Coverage of Government from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists in 2000.