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Lovely Warren to resign by Dec. 1 as part of plea deal over all criminal charges she faces

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester) logo Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester) 10/5/2021 Gary Craig and Brian Sharp, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
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Mayor Lovely Warren, a groundbreaker as Rochester's mayor, admitted Monday to breaching the state's election law and, as part of a plea agreement, will resign from office by Dec. 1.

The plea deal heads off what was expected to be a month-long trial, while also resolving firearms and child endangerment charges Warren confronted in a separate criminal case.

The city's first Black woman to be elected mayor, Warren's tenure has been a roller coaster ride, highlighted by some successful commercial development throughout the community but marred by the criminal allegations that have now hounded her for a year.

In the end, it was the criminal allegations that determined her fate, with her pleading guilty to a single election law crime — admitting that she knowingly exceeded allowed campaign contribution limits during her 2017 re-election campaign. She admitted to a misdemeanor; a felony conviction would have included immediate removal from office and the likely loss of her law license.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren heads towards the courtroom for the start of her trial October 4, 2021, in Rochester, NY. She and her two political campaign associates, Rosalind Brooks-Harris and Albert Jones Jr. ended up having to ,wait outside the courtroom while their lawyers were involved in pre-trail conference, October 4, 2021. The three are face two charged the first charge is for first-degree scheme to defraud; the second is an election law offense for illegally coordinating activities and expenditures. © Tina MacIntyre-Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren heads towards the courtroom for the start of her trial October 4, 2021, in Rochester, NY. She and her two political campaign associates, Rosalind Brooks-Harris and Albert Jones Jr. ended up having to ,wait outside the courtroom while their lawyers were involved in pre-trail conference, October 4, 2021. The three are face two charged the first charge is for first-degree scheme to defraud; the second is an election law offense for illegally coordinating activities and expenditures.

Co-defendants Albert Jones Jr., her campaign treasurer, and Rosiland Brooks-Harris, the treasurer of the political action committee Warren for a Strong Rochester, pleaded guilty to the same crime. Brooks-Harris is also the city’s finance director.

On the eve of trial

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers said they were prepared to go to trial, which would have had the three defendants facing a felony election law charge, as well as accusations that they were part of a felony scheme to defraud through illicit movement of money between the campaign committee and political action committee.

"There's no scheme here," said Warren's attorney, Joseph Damelio. "There's no fraud here."

Visiting Judge Thomas Leone, from Cayuga County, sentenced each of the three to a year-long conditional discharge. This means that they could face more serious penalties if they commit any more offenses during that year.

Assistant District Attorney Jacob Ark said that prosecutors did not recommend a conditional discharge, but left the sentencing decision to the discretion of the judge. 

Had she been found guilty of a felony, Warren faced prison time, but such a sentence could have been unusual for an individual without a prior conviction and, also, because of the rarity of allegations of election law violations.

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Trailed by the media, Warren declined to comment after leaving court.

Warren is expected to be replaced in December by Deputy Mayor James Smith. Then, come Jan. 1, City Councilman Malik Evans, who defeated Warren in the Democratic primary, is expected to assume office.

"Our democracy depends on fair elections," County Legislator Rachel Barnhart, a city Democrat, said in a statement. "... public corruption cannot be tolerated, and we have a lot of work to do at the state and local level to ensure ethical conduct."

Barnhart and former Police Chief James Sheppard lost to Warren in the 2017 Democratic primary and complained to the state Board of Elections about alleged campaign finance violations with the mayor's campaign. Those complaints mirrored in many ways the criminal allegations.

The three defendants admitted to willfully breaching the campaign contribution limits, by taking in donations from and through the political action committee beyond the legal limit in 2017 of $8,557. Damelio and other defense lawyers have portrayed the crime as related to bookkeeping and other inadvertent errors.

The District Attorney's Office has not specified the scope of the fraud it intended to allege, except to portray it as significant and in the "hundreds of thousands of dollars." The PAC raised about $350,000.

Damelio said there was no evidence of a pay-to-play scheme, with developers providing contributions in return for projects. Barnhart noted that neither her 2017 complaints to the state Board of Elections about Warren's campaign finance, nor the criminal indictment handed up a year ago, alleged any favors given to contributors.

But, Barnhart said, the source of the contributions is important.

"Lovely was able to raise well over $100,000 more than she was allowed from these donors because almost all of them had interests before the city," she said.

With a felony, Warren likely would have lost her law license. That is still an issue for a local attorney grievance committee, but a misdemeanor crime would typically involve an instance of "moral turpitude," a crime so egregious it shocks the conscience, for the loss of the license.

Warren's pension is also secure. There is not a loss of public pension with a misdemeanor, according to a spokeswoman for the state comptroller's office.

More: Who is James Smith? Meet Rochester's soon-to-be mayor for a month

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren starts heading towards the courtroom behind her attorney, Joseph Damelio, but were told to wait outside. © Tina MacIntyre-Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren starts heading towards the courtroom behind her attorney, Joseph Damelio, but were told to wait outside.

 Other criminal allegations

In July, a separate grand jury indicted Warren and her estranged husband, Timothy Granison, with criminal possession of a firearm — a felony — and two misdemeanor counts each of endangering the welfare of a child and failure to lock or secure firearms in a dwelling. 

The plea resolves those charges also.

The charges stem from a police raid of the home the couple shared at the time. Police were investigating what they alleged was a drug-trafficking network, in which her husband is charged. Warren is not implicated in that matter.

Rosiland Brooks-Harris waits with her attorney, Michael Schiano, outside of the courtroom Monday before a plea agreement was reached. . © Tina MacIntyre-Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Rosiland Brooks-Harris waits with her attorney, Michael Schiano, outside of the courtroom Monday before a plea agreement was reached. .

Damelio said it is rare to see two disparate cases of this sort resolved with a single plea. However, none of the accused have previous criminal convictions and plea deals are not unusual with lower-level felony crimes.

Prosecutor Jacob Ark declined to discuss the charges separate from the election allegations but said there could still be other matters facing Warren, including the attorney grievance committee consideration of her law license and a child protective investigation.

Warren was accused of child endangerment because of her 10-year-old daughter's presence in the home along with what prosecutors previously alleged were unsecured firearms.

When pleading guilty Monday, Warren said she was doing so for her best interest and "her daughter's best interest."

On Monday, City Council President Loretta Scott said in a statement: "Today, Mayor Warren accepted a plea deal in court, and in doing so, will resign as Mayor by December 1, 2021. Her decision marks the end of a difficult chapter in our City.

"Under the City Charter, Deputy Mayor James Smith will assume the role of Mayor upon her resignation. I am certain my colleagues on Council and the Administration will support this transition and continue the work necessary to best serve the citizens of Rochester."

In a statement, District Attorney Sandra Doorley said that "in every case that comes through our criminal justice system, we thoroughly review the evidence, charges and seek an appropriate disposition.

"In the case of Warren, Jones and Brooks-Harris, we find today’s resolution fair and just based on the nature of their crimes. Moving forward, the ramifications of the Mayor’s conduct spans beyond the criminal justice system. ... This is an important step in our larger efforts in promoting ethical elections in our state."

Warren had earlier portrayed the prosecution as a "witch hunt" by Doorley, a Republican, and others.

More: Mayor presents plan for spending $200M in federal recovery funds. Here's the breakdown

More: Who is James Smith? Meet Rochester's soon-to-be mayor for a month

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Lovely Warren to resign by Dec. 1 as part of plea deal over all criminal charges she faces

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