The Flower City has made its fair share of headlines over the last couple of months. The breaking news that the death of an unarmed Black man, Daniel Prude, took place after an encounter with local law enforcement received national attention. While accidental injury is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., Prude’s death was shrouded in secrecy and took place even before the killing of George Floyd. However, since the public was not informed of the incident until roughly six months after the fact, many residents are convinced that a cover-up took place — and that Mayor Lovely Warren is at the center of it all.
Prude was injured during his encounter with police and was subsequently taken to the hospital, where he died one week later. Despite the fact that 31 million injuries requiring medical attention occur each year nationwide, Prude could not be saved after officers pinned him to the grown and placed a knee on his back. And while the Monroe County Medical Examiner found in April that Prude died by homicide as a result of asphyxiation from restraint, that information (along with the bodycam footage) was kept under wraps until Prude’s family presented it at a press conference one early September.
The blame, supporters say, is to be shared by the police department (most notably, former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, who announced his retirement and was then removed from his position as a result of the incident) and Mayor Warren. Calls for her resignation have been a constant at protests over the last two months, but Warren has shown no signs that she’ll be stepping down.
However, she may not have much of a choice. Now, the mayor has been charged — along with two members from her 2017 re-election campaign — and arraigned on felony fraud charges.
According to a 2019 report, businesses with fewer than 100 employees experienced the greatest percentage of fraud cases (representing 28% of business fraud cases that year). But it’s not uncommon for politicians to be involved in purported fraud, either. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley alleges that Warren, as well as Albert Jones, Jr. and Rosalind Brooks-Harris — who served as the treasurer of the mayor’s Political Action Committee and as her current Deputy Finance Director, respectively — spent a four-year period raising more money than permitted before funneling those funds through a fraudulent committee in order to gain an upper-hand during that election.
This week, Warren was indicted by a grand jury for two non-violent, class E felonies that include scheme to defraud in the first degree and violation of election law 14-126(6). According to expenditures from 2017, $30,000 was transferred from Warren’s PAC to her committee, Friends of Lovely Warren. Warren’s campaign claims that these funds were earmarked for the committee but that they were accidentally placed in the PAC account due to a PayPal error.
DA Doorley maintains that this incident was far from accidental.
“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,” said Doorley in a statement. “There are certain rules about coordinating campaign funds. These are important. We all want fair campaigns. This is allegedly a scheme to defraud.”
Warren has not been arrested but has been processed and pleaded guilty to the charges against her. Warren, Jones, and Brooks-Harris are due back in court in January. A Cayuga County judge with an already-full case schedule has been assigned to the case; should the case go to trial, it’s likely that won’t happen until May 2021. If convicted, the mayor would be removed from office and her pension would be forfeited; there’s also a chance she could lose her license to practice law. And while incarceration seems unlikely, she could face anywhere from 16 months to four years in prison. Probation, restitution, or split sentences could also be possibilities.
The reactions to Warren’s arraignment have been mixed. While Warren has been involved in her fair share of controversy and regularly faces vitriol from both sides of the aisle, some feel that the charges are all part of a larger political witchhunt against the first Black female mayor the city has ever had. What’s more, Mayor Warren plans to run again for re-election in 2021 — provided she’s able to remain in office, raise funds, and get the signatures needed to even appear on the ballot.