Grand jury indicts embattled Rochester mayor on campaign finance charges

Northeast

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has been indicted by a grand jury for campaign finance violations, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley announced Friday.

The grand jury’s indictment follows a yearslong investigation into the mayor’s 2017 re-election campaign. The district attorney said the mayor is facing two class E felonies, including a scheme to defraud in the first degree.

The district attorney said a conviction of a non-violent class E felony could result in a variety of sentences. She said a maximum sentence would be one to four years in state prison, but there could also be probation, split sentences, or restitution in this case.

Doorley said Warren, along with two others — Albert Jones Jr. and Rosiland Brooks Harris — are scheduled to be arraigned Monday in front of a Cayuga County Court Judge.

“This is an indictment, not a conviction — these are simply allegations of violations of the law,” Doorley said.

The district attorney said the legal process in this case could be a long one.

“This could be a long process and we anticipate that there could be challenges along the way so I don’t think this will be anything resolved quickly,” Doorley said.

The district attorney said that the mayor has not yet been arrested, but that she will be processed. Doorley said arrangements for processing were already underway. She said she wasn’t sure exactly when it would happen, but said she believed it would take place at central booking of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Officials offered little for specifics due to the nature of an ongoing investigation, but said the indictment was focused on the raising of hundreds of thousands of dollars between November 2013 and November 2017 — during the mayor’s first term in office.

“This is not political,” Doorley said. “I am the chief law enforcement official in Monroe County. I was presented the facts, we handled it as we would any other case, and I am simply doing my job.”

The district attorney said the mayor is still the mayor, but a conviction could jeopardize her law license.

“Lovely Warren is still the mayor of the City of Rochester — mayoral business needs to continue and I don’t want to dispute that,” Doorley said.

Mayor Warren has been the focus of a New York State Board of Elections investigation into allegations of financial interactions between a political action committee that supported Warren’s re-election bid for mayor and her campaign committee.

According to 2017 expenditures of Warren’s political action committee, Warren for a Stronger Rochester PAC, $30,000 was transferred from the PAC to her committee, Friends of Lovely Warren.

New York State has strict rules forbidding PACs and committees from coordinating. Warren’s campaign claims the money was earmarked for Friends of Lovely Warren, but was accidentally placed in the PAC account through a “PayPal error,” or a clerical mistake.

“I think the indictment alleges that this was not a mistake,” Doorley said.

Officials say the basis of this allegation is that the PAC was used to circumvent a limit set on campaign donations.

“We all want our elections to be run fair and these are laws on the books to allow and ensure that people who are entering political office follow the rules so that there is equal access to everyone,” Doorley said. “There are certain rules about coordinating campaign funds. These are important. We all want fair campaigns. This is allegedly a scheme to defraud.”

All of this was happening in a contested mayoral primary when Warren was running for re-election against Rachel Barnhart and James Sheppard.

Last month, Monroe County prosecutors were scheduled to present their case to a grand jury. In August, WXXI radio host Evan Dawson said he had been subpoenaed and was asked to confirm information for a grand jury.

Dawson’s subpoena follows reports of a number of other subpoenas all seemingly attached to a case being built by Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, a Republican.

“It was made clear to me that they [DA’s office] view some of her statements on that program [Connections with Evan Dawson] as relevant to their investigation,” Dawson said.

Warren’s attorney Joe Damelio has consistently said he has yet to hear from the District Attorney’s office regarding this case.

That same week, during a press conference about introducing city residency requirements to the Rochester Police Department, Mayor Warren responded to a question on the topic saying:

“I just think that this was a complaint done in my re-election campaign from 2017. We’re now in 2020 and this has just come to fruition. Ask yourself why? Come January I’ll be running for re-election and I believe this a political witch hunt. I think that it’s wrong, and I think that people have overstepped here, and my attorney’s plan on defending me to the fullest extent of the law. I think that it is imperative that the people in this community understand what is going on here, and I would hope that our media would go and do their research and look into this. We are talking about something that happened or alleged to happen four years ago. All of a sudden now it’s coming to fruition right before I get ready to run for re-election? Ask yourself, who is running against me and who are they tied to.”

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