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A Van Down By The River
February 15, 2013 - Joe Gorman
If anyone had been in a van down by the Mahoning River at the old B&O Station just after lunch Thursday, they would've been scared away by a pack of ravenous media and triumphant politicians and public officials who strutted with the knowledge they had Ben Lupo's head on a platter.
Lupo, one of the most hated men in the Mahoning Valley right now with perhaps the exception of LeBron James or the Baltimore Ravens, had been arraigned about an hour and a half before in federal court on a charge he directed the dumping of drilling waste into a drain that runs into a tributary of the Mahoning River on Jan. 31 at the site of the D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating facilities he runs off of Salt Springs Road.
For days, there has been an off with his head mentality for Lupo and others of his kind, mainly by state Rep. Bob Hagan, who cried havoc before any camera that was available that Lupo must go down and he must go down hard. In his defense, the fact that the whole thing was shrouded in secrecy and the news didn't break until a couple of days later about the dumping gave credence to a lot of his points, that no one was asking the right questions and the authorities were setting a double standard by arresting protestors at Lupo's facility but allowing him to get away without so much as a slap on the wrist, and that state and other agencies were doing a poor job of informing local officials and the public of what was going on.
That mistake was not made Thursday. I have never in more than 20 years in this trade seen more people at a press conference than I did on the frigid banks of the Mahoning. There was U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, Attorney General Mike DeWine, and a host of others and their staffers and hangers on. When they all made the walk from the parking lot to the deck over the Mahoning River in their dark coats and ties and suits, it looked like something Biblical, like Moses leading the Israelites through the parting waters of the Red Sea. Between the staffers, speakers and media on the deck, I thought at one point it would actually fall into the river.
In fact the throng that made the walk to the podium made the hardened, cynical media, which was bolstered by an out of town contingent from Cleveland and other points unknown, even more cynical. I have not seen a circus like that since Donna Moonda was arraigned on charges she arranged the shooting death of her husband on the Ohio Turnpike and a photographer was hit by a car on Wick Avenue as he tried to snap pictures of one of her attorneys, although this one was a little more dignified.
Everyone who spoke had kind words for each other. They praised the cooperation among different agencies. They praised the brave soul who tipped authorities off to the dumping. They condemned reckless abuse of the environment and lamented that state laws are not as strict as federal laws but someday they will be. Or so it is hoped. Not much new was said. Other than the announcement of the charge and arraignment, about 60 percent of what was said was a rehashing of the public record.
There were a lot of back pats to be handed out and there was a glee in the air that was unmistakable for an unbelievable photo op to take advantage of a situation that never should have probably happened in the first place. Lupo had so many violations in the past that it is hard to believe he was allowed a permit in the first place. And even though there was a criminal investigation almost immediately after the tip came in and prosecutors are loathe to say anything about a pending case, word should have gone out to the public sooner.
The one light moment was when Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone was asked to say a few words and he said he would keep his time mercifully short because of the bone chilling wind coming off the river. And he did; a simple thank you and a plea for tougher regulations and he was finished. I think he was done in under two minutes. And Paul Gains used the word ``miscreant' to describe Lupo. Not a word I get to use often.
One thing is for certain; getting the massive machinery of the federal criminal justice system to charge a person in a case this complex in just two weeks is impressive. The case now goes to a grand jury. What happens next is hard to say. It will not go away quickly. Expect the people who did the dumping at Lupo's direction to be granted some sort of immunity to testify for the government.
Then when the entire process is done, there will be another press conference on the banks of the river, where everyone will brag about how tough they are and the system works and everyone gets along just fine. Exciting. Almost makes me want to live in a van...down by the river.
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