Did Media Outlets Bury An Explosive Scandal as a Favor for Ohio Judicial Candidate?

Tim Tolka
11 min readMar 10, 2023

In Ohio, public officials can do almost anything they want and the local justice system and the media will stick their heads in the sand. Last month, a source of mine from Warren, Ohio reached out saying there was a new scandal emerging that was being covered up by the media. I personally doubted that the media was suppressing the story because I know some of the local reporters and a few of them have shown courage in the past, but alas, that’s not what is happening this time around. To me, it’s shocking that otherwise normal news reporters would ignore a story that is obviously of public interest, but this seems to be commonplace in Ohio, a sad legacy of the mafia that undermined and corrupted the justice system and the fourth estate, neither of which have ever recovered.

A week later another source reached out with more details about the story, which is a sordid one even by Ohio standards. I asked for documentation from this source, and it was quickly produced in the form of a police report, which I sent to various local news organizations assuming they would run it as they would any other story, but they didn’t and so I’m now releasing that report to the public.

One reporter I trusted to do the right thing said, “We have the report. And he pleaded almost immediately. It involved an adult. I believe he pleaded to a misdemeanor. No cover-up here. Will be asking questions election time.”

First, it’s not entirely true that it involved an adult. It also involved a minor. Second, it’s strange that he pleaded to a misdemeanor when he allegedly committed a felony. Third, why would they wait until “election time” to ask questions? When you put these facts together, you have a very, very special case that was not handled like most normal cases. If I did what this guy did, I would likely have been arrested, arraigned, and indicted for a felony, and my picture would have been paraded all over the news.

A Normal Arrest; An Extraordinary Response

The story starts with a sting operation carried out by the Mahoning Valley Human Trafficking task force. They’ve been posing as sex workers to arrest people who avail themselves of illegal services, especially pedophiles. In the last few months, several influential community members have gotten popped. What usually happens is they were put in jail and their photo immediately appeared on the 6 o’clock news. However, in a certain case, the guy was released on a simple summons and his identity was closely guarded by the media. Timothy Sabau showed up in two newspapers outside of his hometown, but the full story of why he was picked up was omitted. Why? Because of who his wife is.

Tim Sabau believed he was talking to the mother of a 15-year-old child in hopes of paying for sex with both mother and daughter. Sabau went on “Skip the games,” a website used exclusively for hiring sex workers. Little did he know, he was communicating with a cop. He was cautious because he was apparently not new to the world of underage sex work. He knew how to speak in code for the services he wanted, and he took steps to avoid law enforcement. His case seems to have received special treatment because he is married to Traci Timko, a city prosecutor and current judicial candidate in Warren, Ohio.

Traci Timko wants to be a judge, and apparently, she’ll stop at nothing to make her campaign successful. Prosecutors and judges seem to be the worst offenders in Ohio because only the local US Attorney or the Ohio Supreme Court have jurisdiction, but there’s a pervasive culture of quid pro quo and back-scratching among elite officials. Because of this, Timko must have felt comfortable obstructing justice for her husband. She made a call to the local police chief and a local judge, one of whom then meddled in the case by allegedly calling the head of the task force and pressuring him to let Sabau go with the summons.

Then, Sean O’Brien, a former official from the area working in the Columbiana prosecutor’s office took over the case and handled it in such a way that Sabau was released with a simple summons, rather than an arrest warrant. A summons is when the crime is minor, but when the crime involves sex with a minor, even if it’s just the intent to arrange sex, it’s typically a felony, so Sabau getting a summons was highly irregular.

The following is an excerpt of my interview with the source who provided the police report, edited for brevity and to protect anonymity.

Q: How did you get the police report?

A: The Task Force didn’t want to talk. They were very reluctant to give me the report.

I asked for text messages. Followed up. Never heard back.

Q: Why is this case strange?

A: WKBN is notorious for running these kinds of stories — another guy doing the same thing got busted and his face was on the 6 o’clock news just yesterday. There was a volunteer basketball coach who was on the news for the same thing. A monster truck driver was in town and was popped for the same thing. A minister. A local attorney was just convicted for the same thing, as well as a corrections officer. Those were all big-time stories — but then the husband of a former prosecutor running for judge is arrested, and crickets. No media coverage.

Q: Why are you doing this?

A: I have nothing to gain. Not looking for anything. Living in this town, it’s never-ending. Same ol’ bullshit. I’m not trying to take anything away from Traci Timko. She is educated. She knows her stuff. She can be a good lawyer, but her personal life interferes with her professional life way too much. She and [Police Chief] Eric Merkel are like little kids. She has no business being a judge. She shouldn’t even have her job.

After the arrest, Traci went to Eric Merkel and [Warren Municipal Judge Thomas] Gysegem for advice. One of them or someone else who knew [Warren Law Director] Enzo Cantalamessa — contacted a supervisor of the Task Force. Arrangements were made for him to be released on a summons.

Q: Why do the newspapers go along with this cover-up?

A: I don’t know who is in bed with who. Traci is well-known and has her supporters. I think it’s disgusting. She speaks at women’s activist functions. She’s doing the opposite. Supporting pedophile husband. She should have kicked his ass to the curb. Go public, [saying] “I don’t support this.” Then, after the election, take him back. She didn’t.

She has kids of her own. That goes against everything she represents. I was told that Traci is part of the Trumbull County Human Trafficking task force. No way in hell this woman should be a judge. How can she prosecute someone for solicitation — isn’t that a conflict? How can she sit on the bench with any sex crimes case, and be fair and impartial?

Q: Some locals know the truth, but why aren’t they speaking up?

A: Supporters of Traci leaked the info. She doesn’t know when to shut her mouth. Own worst enemy. She blabs. Always comes back to her. She thinks these people are her friends. They might assist her, but they tell other people. When you hear it from multiple people, you know it’s true.

In the beginning, I kept tight-lipped when I found out. Little by little, people are testing the waters. People asked me, “Did you hear about Traci?” I played dumb. It falls by the wayside. A week later, someone texted a link to me from Salem news, announcing her husband was arrested. It becomes safer to talk about because so many people know about it. They didn’t know that he responded to an underage ad, wanting to do it. I wanna blow it up myself on social media. People who know what I know tell me “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Q: What happened with the arrest that people don’t know?

A: He was trying to set up sex with the mother and the daughter, but he got spooked. It would’ve been a felony if it was a 15-year-old. At the end of the police report, it says Sabau granted permission to search his work cellphone — where text messages were stored. He was using a company vehicle from his workplace, which is in Akron. J.W. Didado, an electrical company. The name is on the court document. On their website, it says family oriented. That’s ironic.

Afterward, Sabau showed up without an attorney at Columbiana municipal court and got a slap on the wrist. He pleaded no contest. He paid the fine. Kept it hush-hush. There were a few articles in Salem / Lisbon newspapers.

Who was in Columbiana court? Our new common pleas judge in Trumbull — Sean O’Brien. Quite a coincidence that you got a local boy working in the prosecutor’s office before he becomes a local judge.

I’m certain the detective that ran this investigation didn’t have the authority to make this guy released on a summons, escape 6 o’clock news. Calls were made to make this quiet. They’re still trying to make it quiet.

News Outlets refuse to report the News

When people say that the media is corrupt, I don’t usually agree. Some news organizations do favors when awkward stories emerge. In this case, I want to believe that the news outlets were hesitant because they doubted the authenticity of the police report below. However, they can easily reach out to the Task Force to verify that it is authentic. Instead, they clammed up. I was just on the phone with the WKBN newsroom and the person I spoke with was cagey.

WKBN: How did you get the police report? It’s normally not available to us.

Me: I’m not at liberty to divulge my source, but I can say it’s a former official. You can reach out to the Task Force and they can authenticate it. What I want is to make sure the story is reported. I’ve given it to WFMJ and the Tribune, and so have other current and former officials, but nothing happened. I can’t figure out why.

WKBN: I can’t speak for them. What current officials are trying to get this released?

Me: I’m not at liberty to say. Can you verify the authenticity of the report and release it like any normal story?

WKBN:

Then, Mitch Davis, the WKBN news director emailed me, responding to my earlier email, saying the following:

“Extortion is an ugly way to try to force your angle to a story onto the news.

Please feel free to say whatever you wish.”

I responded by email with the following:

“I love your response, and I hope you don’t mind if I quote you. I don’t make the news — Mr. Sabau did — and I don’t see an ‘angle’ there. The guy tried to organize sex with a minor. It’s pretty clear. If you see another ‘angle’ — please enlighten me.”

Mr. Davis claimed that I was extorting WKBN by asking why this story wasn’t reported like others dealing with the same crime, which according to my source, were big stories for WKBN. I wrote in my email that if the local media continued to suppress the story, I would release it myself and implicate them for exactly what they did — by refusing to run the story as they normally do with stories like this, they participated in the cover-up.

The editor at the Tribune, Brenda Linert, has long ago stopped responding to my emails. Same with Ed Runyan. I don’t blame them; I am annoying because I stand apart from the community reporting what happens without fear or favor, which they seem unable or unwilling to do. I understand it, but it’s not what reporters are supposed to do. (Maybe you should consider putting a disclaimer at the bottom of your articles and videos about which news you will and won’t report. There could be a caption: “We aggressively report on crimes when the perpetrator is Black, but not when they’re White and influential,” for example. Just kidding!)

I’m not accusing the media outlets of a cover-up, but the fact remains that none of the media outlets in Warren reported this story. They normally have a field day with stories like this, but WKBN, WFMJ, and the Tribune all managed to avoid reporting what they knew (or at least suspected) to be true. And Mr. Sabau pleaded guilty back in early October. According to a reporter from WFMJ, they were planning to ask questions when election time arrived. This is irregular, and that’s as plain as the nose on my face.

Traci Timko seems like a nice person. She’s qualified. She hangs out with Democrats and claims to be one. However, the fact remains that she has a history of undermining the oath of office she swore to uphold — which requires supporting the Constitution and faithfully discharging the duties of the office. She has done favors for dirty cops by filing false charges against Warren residents, which created a problem so severe the Justice Department had to take control of the WPD for five years. Now, she has allegedly obstructed justice for the sake of a loved one. I’m not saying she did, nor am I saying that others did — we don’t know — this is what people in Warren are saying, even purported supporters of Timko’s candidacy. If true, she and those who helped should face accountability.

They say that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. In this case, the police alleged in the report that Mr. Sabau accepted that the mother refused to “book” a “full” session with her daughter, but they wrote that this was a common tactic for consumers of this type of service to cover their tracks. When you meet in person, you can discuss the business without creating a paper trail. It’s understandable why the deception could not be carried further — it would potentially put the woman posing as a sex worker at risk.

As for the decisions of Timko and her supporters who knew what happened, it’s easy enough to understand; it’s embarrassing that Mr. Sabau got arrested for this, it’s a small town, everybody will know and now is a crucial time for Timko because she is running for a spot on the bench. I suspect that’s also the primary reason why the media is treating this situation with forceps. They don’t want to get dirty looks from their friends.

I’m sure Timothy Sabau was very sorry when he realized he had talked to a cop about being “into” paying for sex with a 15-year-old. Sorry Mr. Sabau, but you should have thought about the damage your actions would cause to everyone close to you before you committed this heinous crime. It’s not Timko’s fault that her husband caused this situation, and she shouldn’t have to answer for his actions. The problem is that she may have acted inappropriately in an attempt to protect him and her candidacy. If Timko interferes with the law for the sake of a loved one, maybe she shouldn’t be a prosecutor, much less a judge.

The police report (below) lays out the facts very clearly.

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Tim Tolka

Author, screenwriter, and journalist. Author of Blue Mafia. IL, LA, CO, TX, FL, VA, NYC, DC, and SF. https://www.timtolka.com/