Ohio crime briefs

Staff Reports

Elementary School Teacher, 11 Others Arrested During Undercover Investigation

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine

August 31, 2018

(YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene today announced that a three-day undercover operation aimed at preventing child sexual exploitation and reducing demand for sex trafficking has led to the arrests of 12 men, including a local elementary school teacher.

Undercover Investigation Arrests

The suspects were arrested this week as part of an investigation led by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force, which is part of Ohio Attorney General DeWine’s Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission.

James Norkus, 24, of Salem, a physical education teacher at Kirkmere Elementary School in Youngstown, is among the 12 suspects now facing charges. He was arrested on charges of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and possession of criminal tools.

“It is reprehensible that anyone would arrange to meet with a juvenile for sex, but it is even more appalling when the person facing charges is an elementary school teacher,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Protecting children is one of my highest priorities, and we will continue to do all we can to stop offenders from harming Ohio’s kids.”

“These types of internet crimes are something that my office takes seriously and personally,” said Sheriff Greene. “As we have stated before, we are going to continue to pursue and arrest these types of predators who are looking to exploit our children.”

The suspects are all accused of having sexually explicit online conversations with undercover officers posing as juveniles. The suspects all allegedly traveled to a vacant home in Mahoning County with the intent to engage in a sexual encounter with a minor.

In addition to Norkus, the following suspects were also each arrested on charges of importuning, attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, and possession of criminal tools:

Naji Alsagoor, 25, Boardman

Robert Canann Jr., 50, Niles

Justin Coyne, 21, Cleveland

Adam Dziedzic, 38, New Castle, Pennsylvania

Brandon Gorcheff, 26, North Lima

Thomas Maylone Jr., 29, East Liverpool

Kevin McNally, 23, Boardman

Alexander Morlan, 21, New Middletown

Andrew Nuzzi, 22, Girard

Peter Petroff Jr., 47, Boardman

Edward Webker, 41, Andover

Webker and Nuzzi are also charged with disseminating matter harmful to juveniles for allegedly sending sexually explicit photographs during their online chats with the undercover officers.

The Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking Task Force is led by the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office and includes representatives from the Austintown Police Department, Howland Township Police Department, Mahoning County Prosecutor’s Office, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Ohio Investigative Unit, Ohio State Highway Patrol, and the Warren Police Department.

The Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force also played a large role in conducting the investigation.

Former Youngstown Mayor, Finance Director Indicted on Public Corruption Charges

August 30, 2018

(YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost, and Mahoning County Prosecuting Attorney Paul Gains today announced that a Mahoning County grand jury has indicted the former mayor and finance director of Youngstown on public corruption charges. The indictment is part of an ongoing public corruption probe of corrupt activity which includes a Poland, Ohio, businessman who was previously indicted on corruption charges last year.

Charles Sammarone, 75, of Youngstown, was indicted on the following charges:

One count of Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity, a felony of the first degree

Nine counts of Bribery, felonies of the third degree

Three counts of Tampering with Records, felonies of the third degree

One count of Falsification, a misdemeanor of the first degree

David Bozanich, 61, of Youngstown, was indicted on the following charges:

One count of Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity, a felony of the first degree

Two counts of Aggravated Theft, felonies of the first degree

15 counts of Bribery, felonies of the third degree

One count of Obstructing Justice, a felony of the fifth degree

The indictment also serves as a superseding indictment for Dominic Marchionda, 58, of Poland, and his affiliated businesses which were previously indicted on October 2, 2017, on charges including Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity, Aggravated Theft, Money Laundering, Receiving Stolen Property, Tampering with Records, and Telecommunications Fraud. The indictment includes new charges of Theft pertaining to insurance funds for the Legal Arts building and Money Laundering for laundering the stolen insurance funds related to the Legal Arts building.

Sammarone served as Mayor of Youngstown from 2011 to 2013. The indictment alleges that Sammarone solicited and received recurring cash payments from a vendor in return for steering projects to the company.

Bozanich served as Finance Director of Youngstown until December 2017. The indictment alleges that Bozanich received benefits from several individuals and in return agreed to assist in securing public funding from the city for economic development projects, including Marchionda’s.

“The people of Youngstown deserve to have confidence in their elected officials, but the indictments announced today show a repeated pattern of bribery and corrupt activity,” said Attorney General Mike DeWine. “There has been tremendous cooperation in this case from my office, Auditor of State Dave Yost, Prosecutor Paul Gains, Sheriff Jerry Green, and others who have worked hard to bring these charges to light in order to seek justice.”

“These indictments should make clear to the people of the Mahoning Valley that our investigators and forensic auditors will not relent until we’ve taken down the last crook standing. The abuses we’ve uncovered are maddening, especially for an area of our state that has been challenged economically,” Auditor Dave Yost said. “Our work here is not complete, and we will continue to partner with Attorney General DeWine and the Mahoning County sheriff and prosecutor in this investigation until we’ve rooted out all of the corruption in the valley.”

This ongoing case is being investigated by the Ohio Auditor of State’s Public Integrity Assurance Team with the assistance of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office is serving as special assistant prosecutor with Mahoning County in this case.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

New Charges in Murder, Dismemberment of Youngstown Woman

August 30, 2018

(YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio)— Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that new charges have been filed against three people accused of operating a criminal enterprise in an attempt to cover up the murder and dismemberment of a Youngstown woman.

Today, a special prosecutor with Attorney General DeWine’s Special Prosecutions Section presented new evidence to a Mahoning County grand jury regarding the murder of Shannon Graves, 28, whose remains were found in a freezer in July 2017.

“The measures that this group allegedly took to cover up this gruesome homicide are incomprehensible,” said Attorney General DeWine. “These three defendants are accused of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity in an attempt to mislead authorities and conceal their atrocious crimes.”

Arturo Novoa, 32, of Youngstown, who was previously arrested and charged with Graves’ murder, is now facing the following 44 charges:

Aggravated murder, one count

Murder, one count

Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one count

Tampering with evidence, 24 counts

Abuse of a corpse, six counts

Possession of criminal tools, three counts

Theft of WIC program benefits, three counts

Grand theft of a motor vehicle, one count

Drug trafficking, four counts

According to the indictment, Novoa, who is Graves’ former boyfriend, murdered the victim in February or March 2017. He is accused of dismembering her body, concealing her limbs in a freezer, and further mutilating the rest of her remains.

Andrew Herrmann, 27, of Youngstown, allegedly helped Novoa dismember the victim’s body, move her remains, and destroy personal items belonging to the victim. Herrmann was arrested this afternoon and is now charged with the following 14 counts:

Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one count

Tampering with evidence, 12 counts

Abuse of a corpse, one count

Herrmann’s wife, Michelle Ihlenfeld, 26, of Youngstown, is accused of making threats and obstructing the investigation into the homicide and cover-up of Graves’ death. Ihlenfeld was arrested this afternoon and is now charged with the following four counts:

Engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, one count

Intimidation, two counts

Obstruction of justice, one count

A search warrant was also served today at the home of Herrmann and Ihlenfeld.

The case remains under investigation by the Youngstown Police Department.

An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

New Collaboration to Enhance CyberSecurity Education

August 31, 2018

AG DeWine, Air Force Association Announce New Collaboration to Enhance CyberSecurity Education

(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced a new collaboration between his CyberOhio initiative and the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot Program to increase cybersecurity education.

“This collaboration sets the stage for the next generation of Ohioans to help lead the nation’s cybersecurity efforts,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Expanding opportunities for Ohio students to learn more about cyber careers encourages even more students to pursue professions in this growing field.”

CyberPatriot National Commissioner Bernie Skoch said “The Air Force Association is delighted to collaborate with Attorney General DeWine and his staff in promoting cyber safety and cybersecurity to students and all Ohioans. Ohio is clearly leaning forward in providing its citizenry with vital tools that will equip them to lead the nation in safe online activities and commerce. We are happy to be a part of this important initiative.”

The goals of the new collaboration include:

To increase the number of elementary, middle, and high school students motivated to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics;

To increase the number of students motivated to pursue higher education and career technical education cybersecurity; and

Through cyber safety and cyber education, to immunize elementary, middle, and high school students against exploitation and other online threats.

Attorney General DeWine’s CyberOhio initiative is a collection of cybersecurity programs aimed at helping Ohio’s businesses fight back against cyberattacks. The goal of CyberOhio is simple: To provide the best legal, technical, and collaborative cybersecurity environment possible to help Ohio’s businesses thrive. In order to help reach this goal, the CyberOhio Initiative focusses on workforce development, specifically by encouraging students to consider careers in the cybersecurity field, and creating opportunities for cyber leaders to speak with students about possible career paths.

CyberPatriot, the nation’s largest and fastest growing youth cyber education program, is AFA’s flagship STEM program dedicated to strengthening cyber skills among students. The program features the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition for high school and middle school students, AFA CyberCamps, an elementary school cyber education initiative, the Cyber Education Literature Series, and CyberGenerations, a program promoting senior citizens cyber awareness.

The Air Force Association is a non-profit, independent, professional military and aerospace education association. Their mission is to promote a dominant United States Air Force and a strong national defense and to honor Airmen and our Air Force Heritage.

New program boosts use of HIV medications in injection-drug users

Ohio State University

Aug. 30, 2018

Study employed simple, repeatable program, researchers say

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A relatively simple effort to provide counseling and connect injection-drug users with resources could prove powerful against the spread of HIV in a notoriously hard-to-reach population, new research suggests.

The study increased by almost 30 percent the use of antiretroviral medications to suppress HIV infection, according to the study, which appears in The Lancet.

The research team, co-led by William Miller of The Ohio State University, studied the intervention in a handful of high-risk populations around the world and found that it was not only well-received but could also reduce deaths from HIV infection.

Miller, a professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, and his colleagues wanted to create a low-cost, effective program that would help the select populations tested in this study – but one that could also be ramped up to improve the worldwide health of HIV-infected people who inject drugs. The study included sites in the Ukraine, Vietnam and Indonesia that are part of the HIV Prevention Trials Network.

“All over the world, people who inject drugs are stigmatized in both the general population and the health care setting and they tend to be afraid to engage with health care providers and others who want to help them,” Miller said. “This becomes even more of a challenge when it comes to people who inject drugs and who have HIV.”

“Our goal was to design something that could be scaled up relatively easily, including in places that don’t have a lot of resources,” Miller said.

After a year, 72 percent of the HIV-positive group who received the flexible program of psychosocial counseling and help navigating existing resources said they were using antiretroviral therapy (ART) to combat their HIV infection. In the control group, only 43 percent of infected participants were on therapy.

That’s a remarkable victory in a group of HIV-positive people who face serious obstacles to ongoing treatment, including stigma and poor access to adequate health care, Miller said. The World Health Organization has set a goal of 90 percent uptake of ART among infected individuals by 2020.

The researchers also saw a significant improvement in the intervention group when it came to suppressing the virus – and likely reducing the risk of transmission. Forty-one percent of HIV-positive men and women who had psychosocial support and help accessing resources achieved viral suppression, compared to 24 percent of those in the control group.

Furthermore, 41 percent of the HIV-positive participants in the study group were on medication to help with their drug use, versus 25 percent of their peers who did not receive additional help. Among the non-infected drug-use partners, uptake of medication for drug use was slightly higher among those in the intervention group, but the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

And none of the HIV-free drug-use partners in the intervention group were infected in a year’s time. In the control group, seven partners were infected.

Both the infected and uninfected participants in the intervention group saw lower mortality rates than those in the standard-of-care group. Seven percent of infected intervention participants, compared to 15 percent who received standard care, died during the study follow-up.

And, though it wasn’t an outcome the research team originally planned to analyze, they did find that the initiative cut the risk of death in half. Among uninfected intervention participants in the study, .5 percent died, compared to 3 percent of those who received standard care.

People who use injection drugs typically have high rates of HIV and limited access to antiretroviral therapy and medications to help them stop using injection drugs, Miller said.

The intervention used in the study was designed in hopes of offering counseling and steering people toward existing resources that could improve their health – including preventing HIV infection and helping them move toward a drug-free life.

A key element was the flexibility of the program, the researchers said. Previous studies have often been prescriptive in terms of how much counseling a participant receives. In this study, the participants could receive as little or as much as suited their needs.

“Our study confirmed the fact that the effort to successfully engage HIV-infected people who use injection drugs in care is on a spectrum. Some needed very little support and some required an enormous effort with several visits and counseling sessions to help them and convince them to get into care,” said study co-lead author Irving Hoffman of the University of North Carolina.

“The flexibility of our intervention was ideal to serve this population and objective,” he said.

The study included 502 people who were HIV positive at the start of the trial, and another 806 HIV-free people within their drug-use circles. A quarter of the study participants were assigned to the new intervention, while the rest received “standard of care” – whatever is typically available to this population.

Participants in the study ranged from 18 to 60 years old and were actively injecting drugs at least twice a week at the time of enrollment in the research. The researchers found the non-infected participants through the HIV-infected study subjects, who suggested people with whom they used drugs. Up to five injection partners were enrolled per HIV-infected “index” participant.

Standard of care in each of the countries included referrals for HIV management and medication, including methadone or buprenorphine. They also received a standard harm-reduction package, HIV testing and counseling, referrals for antiretroviral therapy and other basic care provided in their country. That could include referrals to clean syringe programs, risk-reduction counseling for injection drug use and sexually transmitted diseases.

Infected participants in the intervention group received all of that, in addition to access to systems navigators who helped them engage with resources, stick with the program and adhere to HIV care and therapy to reduce or stop injection drug use. They also had psychosocial counseling that included tactics to help them solve problems, build skills and set goals.

Each participant received at least two meetings or phone calls with a systems navigator and a counselor. Participants were asked to bring a family member, friend or partner with them to these sessions. After the initial two sessions, the frequency or amount of help was dictated by the participant’s needs and desires.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse supported the study.

Kathryn Lancaster, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Ohio State, also worked on the study.


Staff Reports