Mayor Lovely Warren pleaded not guilty to two charges related to campaign finance activities alleged to have occurred between Nov. 6, 2013 and Nov. 7, 2017.
Warren’s attorney, Joseph Damelio, entered the plea on her behalf at an arraignment Oct. 5 in City Court.
Warren was released on her own recognizance.
Her co-defendants, Albert Jones Jr. and Rosiland Brooks Harris, also pleaded not guilty.
The three are scheduled to be back in court Jan. 12.
Warren left the courtroom before Jones and Harris were arraigned. Outside, she was greeted by dozens of supporters chanting “We still believe,” a take on her campaign slogan, and every few steps someone pulled her in for a hug.
The mayor did not address the media.
Her attorney, Joseph Damelio, spoke on her behalf.
He said she is not considering resigning. “Her ability to govern has not been impaired by any stretch.” He also said she “welcomes the opportunity for the public to see whether or not the district attorney’s charges hold any water …”
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 acted on behalf of a candidate or political committee “knowing and willfully” acted in a way to evade contribution limits of state election law.
In a news conference last week after District Attorney Sandra Doorley announced the indictment, Damelio and attorneys John DeMarco (representing Jones) and Michael Schiano (representing Harris) said the key to the charges was “intent.” They said any mistakes were just that.
After the arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Jacob Ark said the allegations are that the campaign used a political action committee to try to circumvent contribution limits set by election law.
The case is being heard by Cayuga County Judge Thomas G. Leone. During the arraignment, Damelio asked Leone how he came to hear the case. Leone said he was asked by the administrative law judge, who oversees the courts in the jurisdiction.
The other attorneys expressed similar concerns.
DeMarco said there would not be an issue if administrative law judge Craig Doran acted on his own. Schiano said there was concern that the district attorney’s office may have asked about getting a judge from outside Monroe County.
Under COVID-19 guidelines, spectators were limited in the courtroom. A video feed played in the lobby and in an overflow courtroom. However, that feed could not be recorded. Minority Reporter Media Group was among several news outlets requesting that pool video and still cameras be allowed in the courtroom to document the procedure and create a permanent record for the media. Leone, who said he had never allowed cameras in the courtroom, denied the request.
The next steps include the defense attorneys receiving the materials used to bring the charges against Warren, Jones and Harris. The defense motions based on those materials are due to the court Dec. 7. The district attorney’s deadline to reply is Dec. 17.