Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, co-defendants plead not guilty at arraignment

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, along with two co-defendants, entered pleas of not guilty on two class E felony charges inside the Hall of Justice Monday.

Warren, along with Albert Jones Jr. and Rosiland Brooks-Harris, were indicted by a grand jury on Friday for campaign finance violations.

MORE | Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren indicted by grand jury, charged with scheme to defraud

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said the mayor and the co-defendants are facing two class E felonies, including scheme to defraud in the first degree, and violation of election law 14-126(6). Brooks-Harris is currently the City of Rochester Finance Director.

Shortly before the arraignment began, the judge decided there would be no video or audio recordings of the proceedings.

Outside the courthouse a showing of support for the mayor as several dozen people gathered.

Mayor Warren’s attorney Joe Damelio entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf during the arraignment. The only words the mayor said during the proceedings were “yes sir” when the judge asked if she’d be available to return for future court appearances.

Jones Jr. and Brooks-Harris also pleaded not guilty Monday.

The district attorney said Friday that 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.

Shortly after the arraignment, the Monroe County Sherriff’s Office released the mug shots of the three defendants in this case:

Mayor Warren has long been the focus of a New York State Board of Elections investigation into allegations of financial interactions between a political action committee that supported her 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.

Officials say the basis of this allegation is that the PAC was used to circumvent a limit set on campaign donations — the limit in 2017 was set at $8,557.

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 Friday.

Legal expert and Ontario County District Attorney Jim Ritts said on Monday he expects an adjournment and a court date to be set for further proceedings — and he expects a not-guilty plea because it’s the first appearance regarding those charges. 

“We’re held to a higher standard as attorneys,” Ritts said speaking of Warren who has a law degree herself. “We have to conduct ourselves ethically and there would be a questions about that post-conviction and I expect everything will follow the criminal justice process.”

Politically, Nazareth College political science professor Tim Kneeland says it won’t be easy for Mayor Warren to govern while facing these allegations.

“It’s absolutely difficult,” Kneeland said. “Anyone governing a major urban center in America today is challenged by a lack of resources, by political divisions in the community, and certainly by factions in their own political party. Certainly the mayor has had all of those.”

This is going to make it difficult for her to get the trust back that she lost over the Daniel Prude allegations,” added Kneeland. “It’s going to be really challenging. Can she do it? Maybe, yeah. This is going to be in court for a very long time, one would imagine.”

Mike Burger, a local attorney, said now begins ‘discovery’ – lawyers exchanging evidence. The case could eventually settle, or go to trial. If the mayor is convicted of the felonies, Burger continued, she could lose her right to hold public office.

“Probably, a defense we can expect to see from Mayor Warren’s lawyer, who is a capable attorney with a terrific reputation, could be that the charges themselves violate the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause,” Burger said.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we continue to update this developing story.

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