Auditor’s Public Integrity Team at Center of Probes in Mahoning Valley and Across Ohio
Columbus – The 101-count indictment of Youngstown-area businessman Dominic Marchionda and 56-count indictment of former Niles Mayor Ralph E. Infante have more in common than major criminal cases against prominent people: Both cases were investigated by a little-known, two-year-old team inside the Auditor of State’s office.
On Oct. 2, an investigation by the Public Integrity Assurance Team led to the 101-count indictment of developer Marchionda for charges ranging from engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity to money laundering and aggravated theft. More indictments are expected in the case, according to Auditor Dave Yost.
In November, 2016, PIAT led the investigation that culminated in the 56-count indictment of the former Niles mayor on charges ranging from engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity to money laundering and tampering with records.
Since being formed by Auditor Yost in early 2015, PIAT’s work has led to 46 criminal convictions – including some of the highest-profile government fraud investigations in Ohio. That total does not include cases like Marchionda and Infante, which have yet to go to trial. Since Yost took office in January of 2011, there have been 137 convictions as a result of the work of his office.
“We needed a unified approach to these cases because we had investigators thinking differently than auditors and auditors thinking differently than attorneys,” Yost said in explaining why he put the team together. “The creation of this team combined experts from all three fields under one command with one plan of work and one common goal: To do justice.”
The team has 26 members: 10 criminal investigators, nine forensic auditors, two attorneys, four managers and a clerk. They work together to handle cases from the time they come in as a complaint until they are ultimately prosecuted in court.
“As people have begun to become aware of the Public Integrity team, and the quality of work it does, the demand has increased significantly,” Yost said. “The fact is that prior to the creation of this team, there wasn’t any state authority with statewide jurisdiction that had public corruption as its primary mission.”
PIAT’s success and professionalism has won it wide respect among law enforcement, and the team has worked with officials at the federal, state and local levels. PIAT sometimes plays a role in prosecuting cases, even when the team wasn’t involved in the investigations: It is not uncommon for local prosecutors to contact the Auditor’s office asking for a PIAT attorney to handle special prosecutor duties.
The work of PIAT has grabbed the attention of other states as well who have inquired about creating similar teams.
Among PIAT’s recent significant cases:
- Village of Mount Sterling: Four officials were convicted for stealing from the small Madison County community, with losses in excess of $728,000 http://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/3649
- Mahoning County: Youngstown-area developer indicted on more than 100 counts https://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/3696
Public Integrity Team executes search warrants in Mahoning County http://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/3584
- City of Niles: Former Mayor Ralph Infante indicted on 56 counts https://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/3297
- STAR Community Justice Center: Employees forged receipts, stole property and illegally spent thousands of tax dollars on liquor, hotels and a strip club http://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/3455
- Franklin County Court of Appeals: Judge Tim Horton was convicted for improper use of campaign funds; AOS recommended felony theft-in-office charges http://www.dispatch.com/news/20170310/ags-office-negotiated-to-lessen-charges-against-judge-tim-horton
- Perrysburg Schools and Bowling Green Athletic Boosters: Perrysburg schools employee stole a combined $661,700 from Perrysburg and the Bowling Green Boosters https://ohioauditor.gov/news/pressreleases/Details/2883
“Auditor Yost had quite the vision in creating the unit,” said Mark Porter, who joined the team as its director in April 2017. “I’ve been impressed by the diversity of the team and the collective commitment to the mission. It’s an impressive group.”
PIAT has four key leaders:
- Mark Porter is the director of the Public Integrity team. Porter served in the Secret Service for 26 years. During his tenure, he was detailed to the National Security Council, Executive Office of the President, and Central Intelligence Agency.
Porter began his Secret Service career in 1991 as a special agent assigned to the Columbus Field Office. He has since served in numerous assignments which include Director of Intelligence; Special Agent in Charge-Cincinnati Division; Director, Combating Terrorism Directorate, National Security Council; Deputy Special Agent in Charge-Intelligence Division, Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge-Los Angeles Division and Staff Assistant to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Porter has served within the Executive Office of the President on two occasions. In his second assignment from 2007 – 2009, he was detailed to the National Security Council and served as director for the Combating Terrorism Directorate. During this assignment, he was charged with direct accountability for tracking and monitoring threats to the homeland, U.S. interests abroad, U.S. citizens and facilities, and any threats directed toward U.S. allies.
Upon his retirement from the Secret Service, Porter was a Senior Executive Service member of the U.S. Government serving as the director of the United States Secret Service Intelligence Division. He had direct oversight of the Operations, Risk Management, National Threat Assessment Center and Foreign Assessment and Counterterrorism branches providing guidance and coordination for all protective intelligence investigations and advances.
- Robert Smith is deputy legal counsel to Auditor Yost and is one of two lawyers on the team. Smith is frequently called upon to serve as special prosecutor in cases investigated by PIAT. He also is asked to serve as special counsel on other cases where there may be a perception of a conflict between the prosecutor’s office and the individual charged with a crime.
Smith previously served as director of the Fraud and Enforcement Division for the Ohio Department of Insurance, working for the department from 2002 to 2009. He assisted in investigations of fraud committed by consumers, healthcare providers and insurance agents. He previously worked 14 years as chief trial counsel for the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Organized Crime Investigations Commission. In that position, he directed investigations into a wide variety of cases under Ohio’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Smith also worked for the Franklin County prosecutor’s office for 10 years, with more than half of the time spent as head of the economic crime unit.
- Randall Turner is the deputy director of the Public Integrity Assurance Team. He manages the forensic auditors in PIAT and advises them on open fraud cases. Turner has been with the Auditor’s office since 1999. Before joining PIAT, Turner served as the assistant chief auditor of the Central Region of the Auditor’s office, where he managed financial audits of local governments such as school districts, cities, counties, townships and villages.
- Michael Spiert is chief of Special Investigation for the Auditor. Spiert is a 2001 graduate of the FBI National Academy. He served at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office for 31 years, working in the Corrections, Patrol and Investigative bureaus. He retired as lieutenant commander of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit. Spiert served as an investigator with the Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office for five years and was appointed as Chief of Investigations of the Ohio Auditor of State’s Special Investigations in January 2011.
“The kind of cases PIAT handles tend to be very complicated and take a long time to investigate,” Yost said. “The experience and skill level of those on the Public Integrity unit allows us to investigate significant corruption, and Ohioans should be pleased with the results.”
Porter stressed that he wants PIAT to continue working with other law enforcement agencies to leverage resources, learn new approaches from peers.
If you know of government fraud in Ohio, you can file a complaint with the Public Integrity Assurance Team anonymously, either by phone at 1-866-372-8364, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Auditor’s website here.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.