ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A grand jury has indicted Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and two associates for allegations related to fraud and violating election law.
Both charges are Class E felonies. Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley announced the indictment Friday afternoon.
“We are here today to be transparent and upfront with the people of Monroe County," said Doorley. "We are not here to conduct a trial in the media and we are not here to comment on evidence.”
The other two indicted individuals are Warren's former campaign treasurer Albert Jones Jr. and City of Rochester Finance Director Rosalind-Brooks Harris. The New York State Board of Elections initially started the investigation after both of Warren's Democratic primary opponents filed formal complaints about campaign finance activity.
Doorley says her office became aware and involved with the investigation in March of 2018 and started its investigation "in earnest" after receiving a report from BOE investigators in March 2020. That report found "considerable evidence" the individuals had violated penal law as well as election law.
The first count is scheme to defraud in the first degree which alleges the defendants engaged in a scheme with attempt to defraud more than one person or gain property from more than one person and did obtain property between November 2013 and November 2017.
The second count essentially alleges that Warren's campaign committee and the Warren for a Stronger Rochester PAC illegally coordinated in order to skirt campaign contribution limits for candidates. Investigators said over the four year period the committees in question raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Warren has previously called the investigation a political witch hunt, but Doorley rejected that notion.
“This is not political," she said. "I am the chief law enforcement officer for Monroe County. I was presented with an investigation. I reviewed the facts. I presented this case, well my team presented it to a grand jury as we would any other cases and the result is the indictment that we’re handing down today. It is not political. I am simply doing my job.”
The DA said the investigation was slowed down because of the coronavirus pandemic with the grand jury convening in September and concluding Friday. Doorley said she notified the defendants' attorneys of the results before her press conference.
“Lovely Warren is still the mayor of the City of Rochester," she said. "Mayoral business needs to continue. I don’t want to disrupt that and I want us to continue in our community.”
“Her position has not changed one bit and that is she’s innocent and that she maintains that she did not intend to violate the law, she did not knowingly violate the law and she’s anxious to get this process started and she’s ready to go to trial," said Warren's defense attorney Joseph Damelio.
Damelio questions the fairness of the grand jury process in this case, during this tumultuous time for Warren as the local Black Lives Matter movement calls for her resignation.
“And we saw people protesting," he said. "We saw people sleeping out every night and every day, blocking the street in front of City Hall calling for my client’s resignation. That is a tremendous amount of pressure to put on a people sitting in the grand jury and our constitution guarantee us a fair and impartial grand jury.”
Under new state bail reform rules, none of the defendants will be detained and they were issued an appearance ticket. Their arraignments are scheduled for Monday, October 5.
The initial court proceeding will happen in Monroe County but will be in front of a Cayuga County judge. Doorley said the state court system felt it was important to bring in a judge who was not familiar with what's going on in Rochester and perhaps was not familiar with the mayor.
She said she expects the court proceedings to take some time because of the coronavirus pandemic and the high-profile nature of the case.