Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and two others were charged with two counts related to campaign finances.
Indictments from a Monroe County grand jury against Warren, Albert Jones Jr. and Rosiland Brooks Harris were unsealed Oct. 2 and announced by Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley.
They were charged with one count of first-degree scheme to defraud and one count of violating state election law and state penal law.
“We are not here to conduct a trial in the media and we are not here to comment on evidence,” Doorley said. The purpose of the announcement was “to be transparent and upfront with the people of Monroe County.”
Warren, Jones and Harris are scheduled to be arraigned at 4 p.m. Oct. 5 in Monroe County before Cayuga County Judge Thomas G. Leone. Doorley said she consulted with the administrative judge and they thought it proper to bring in a judge who was not familiar with the situation and may not even know the mayor.
The charges are Class E felonies. Doorley said the charges are not expected to affect Warren’s ability to serve as mayor.
City Council President Loretta Scott issued a statement:
“Today, a grand jury indicted Mayor Warren and City Finance Director Brooks-Harris, and while I have not had the opportunity to review the indictment in detail, I am obviously saddened by this news. I believe in due process and that everyone is innocent until proven otherwise. I want to assure the community that the business of the City will continue uninterrupted.”
Warren’s attorney, Joe Damelio, said at a separate news conference that “she wants you to know that Monday morning she’s coming to work and she’s going to represent her constituents with the same vigor and dedication that she does every single day on the job. She’s doing to walk into that building with her head held high and go to work.”
“Lovely Warren still is the mayor of Rochester,” Doorley said. “Mayoral business needs to continue. I don’t want to disrupt that.”
Warren still is facing scrutiny over the death of Daniel Prude and the state Office of the Attorney General is investigating the matter. In the month since the public learned of the death, protesters have been outside City Hall – camping there for a few nights — and have consistently called for Warren’s resignation. Damelio said grand jurors in the campaign finance case weren’t sequestered from those events and it may have been difficult for them to separate the protests from the evidence presented to them.
The indictment resulted from a series of complaints that were made to the state Board of Elections and Election Law Enforcement between April 20 and Nov. 6, 2017 about campaign finance activities of the Friends of Lovely Warren and Warren for a Strong Rochester PAC (which stands for political action committee). The Monroe County District Attorney’s Office worked with the state elections board over the past two years.
The first count of the indictment alleged that from Nov. 6, 2013 to Nov. 7, 2017, Warren, Jones and Harris, acting alone or together, “engaged in a scheme constituting a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud” more than one person and obtained property worth more than $1,000 from one or more persons.
The second count alleged that during the same time, the defendants — either alone or in concert — acted on behalf of a candidate or political committee “knowing and willfully” in a way to evade contribution limits of state election law.
Doorley would not give a specific amount of money involved but said it could be several hundred thousand dollars.
In his news conference, Damelio said there was nothing underhanded or sinister. He said there was no intent and that the issues were mistakes or miscommunications among volunteer campaign staff. He said the mayor was looking forward to her day in court. No timeframe was given for a trial, however. Doorley said COVID-19 continues to affect court proceedings.
For residents not versed in election law, the charges may seem confusing and immaterial to folks more concerned about trash collection and other services that affect their daily life.
“We all want our elections to be run fair,” Doorley said. “These are laws … to allow and ensure that people running for office follow the rules so there’s equal access for everyone.”