Bob Fitrakis is at his best when he writes about George Voinovich at his worst. Catching Voinovich at his worst was not that hard when the former “frugal” Cleveland mayor and future “moderate” U.S. senator held statehouse ethics hostage as Ohio’s governor in the 1990s. So it’s not surprising that The Fitrakis Files: The Brothers Voinovich and the Ohiogate Scandal — the fourth compilation of the Columbus State Community College professor, lawyer, activist, and talk-radio firebrand’s writings — is probably his best.

That’s not to say the first three Fitrakis Files — Spooks, Nukes & Nazis; A Schoolhouse Divided; and Free Byrd & Other Cries of Justice are not exemplary. How could I say otherwise when I co-wrote some of the entries in the Byrd book? But The Brothers Voinovich and the Ohiogate Scandal rises above the others because the Voinovich clan and the brownshirts who did their bidding made such easy targets as they turned statehouse sleaze into an art form.

Fitrakis gets off to a good start in this compilation of his writings from Columbus Alive and The Free Press with its dedication to “the exemplary life of David Sturtz and to the memory of Joe Gilyard, two of Ohio’s finest public servants.” Sturtz and Gilyard have two things in common. One is that they both took a costly, princip-led stand against the Voinoviches’ unabashed cronyism. The other thing Sturtz and Gilyard have in common is that I referred Fitrakis to them after I persuaded him to try to make his points through investigative reporting rather than political pontificating.

With help of Sturtz, Gilyard and like-minded government employees who didn’t believe Columbus should be turned over to a bunch of Cleveland crooks, Fitrakis took my advice and soon was breaking story after story about the veniality of the Voinoviches. With the support and assistance of Columbus Alive publisher Sally Crane and editor Brian Lindamood, Fitrakis began by exposing the corruption of Paul Mifsud, who went from being Paul Voinovich’s right-hand man at his supposed “prison construction” company, if that’s what you call building jails that fall apart as fast you build them, to being the right-hand man of George Voinovich’s “government destruction” operation, if that’s what you call expanding government funding and directing it into the pockets of your cronies.

Mifsud apparently believed being a member of the Knights of Malta gave him prosecution-proof armor and the belief he could do no wrong. As Fitrakis, more than any other journalist, documented, Mifsud could actually do almost no right. It all caught up with Mifsud when he struck a deal with T.G. Banks, who was to minority contracting what fellow Ohioan Don King was to boxing — a flamboy-ant parasite — for a low-cost home renovation job for Mifsud’s future wife.

Thanks greatly to the pressure Fitrakis kept on the scandal once it started unraveling, Mifsud and Banks went to jail. Voinovich, unfortunately, went to Washington, where he joined his former sycophant and lieutenant governor, Mike DeWine, in the Senate. DeWine earned his way into the world’s most exclusive club for helping destroy Joe Gilyard, who had the audacity to complain about efforts to force him to steer jail-construction contracts to the Voinovich Companies owned by Pauly Voinovich.

With the help of Franklin County Sheriff Earl Smith and black apologist Cornell McCleary, the V Group, as the Voinovich firm was renamed, managed to shoot down Gilyard’s rising political star with false criminal charges and trumped-up civil suits. Gilyard, the straightest-shooting, most perceptive politician I’ve met in Ohio, died of a massive heart attack at age 47 in 1998 just as he was ready to sue the Voinovich cabal for virtually hijacking state government for the benefit of those who jammed the most money in their coffers.

This book also is a good reminder about some of those who helped the Voinoviches get away with it all. Perhaps the best example is spin doctor Curt Steiner, who recently was named Ohio State University’s new $275,004-a-year lobbyist and public relations chief. Steiner, who would have walked over his own grandmother to serve the Voinovich cabal, will also be eligible for a 10 percent bonus each year if he brings home the bacon from the statehouse and positive publicity from the news media.

Another knight in grimy armor that Fitrakis’ book reminds the reader about is then-state Auditor, now Attorney General Jim Petro, who chose to audit the Jefferson County prosecuting attorney’s office while it was digging into the muck Paul Voinovich’s company left behind after building an overbudget jail that was more a house of cards than a house of guards. Despite Petro’s intimidation tactics, Prosecutor Stephen Stern unearthed enough misconduct that it finally did in Paul Voinovich and his bribe-paying minions, forcing his company into bankruptcy.

Fitrakis does the state a favor by allowing Joe Gilyard to get the final word in The Brothers Voinovich and the Ohiogate Scandal by publishing the whistleblower’s poignant ”last will and testament.” Fitrakis has done Ohio readers a big favor by reminding us how many good people the Voinovich and his brownshirts compromised, walked over and destroyed to achieve their current positions. In Ohio, the modern answer to the question, “What does a man gain if he wins the whole world but loses his soul?” is that he wins more prestige, power and money.

The Fitrakis Files: The Brothers Voinovich and the Ohiogate Scandal ($15) is published by Columbus Alive Publishing and the Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism.

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