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All Brian Davis, All The Time

What will we do mow that we don’t have Davis to kick around anymore?

Last Friday afternoon, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III insisted that he’d made no plea deal with Ellicott District Councilman Brian C. Davis. Davis had just pleaded guilty before City Court Judge Thomas P. Amodeo to two misdemeanors: using campaign money for personal expenses and filing false campaign finance disclosure reports.

“I made him plead to exactly what he did,” Sedita told reporters.

There may have been no plea deal, but there was a negotiation. The DA sat down with Davis’s attorney, Rodney Personius, before a court date had been set and reviewed the evidence his team had collected against Davis. Sedita says the evidence for the two misdemeanors was rock solid, but that he was ready to convene a grand jury and pursue additional charges. Personius and Davis agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanors in order to cut off any further investigation of Davis’s affairs.

That sounds like a plea deal to me.

But Sedita doesn’t like the term “plea deal” because it connotes a give-and-take that he says did not occur. He argues that he didn’t bargain down the charges in exchange for the guilty plea: Davis admitted to the crimes that the DA knew he could prove without a doubt. Perhaps most inportantly, Sedita said, there was no deal made on sentencing: Davis’s punishment will be whatever the judge chooses to give him.

Still, one can’t help but wonder if Davis got off easy, not only by avoiding further scrutiny of his financial doings by the DA but also in terms of the charges he copped to.

Consider the misdemeanors to which Davis plead guilty. He admitted accepting campaign donations and depositing some of those donations into a personal account. Davis “later withdrew those funds and used them for personal purposes,” according to New York State Police Investigator Theresa Schroeder, whose signed statement comprises almost the entire court filing by the DA’s office on Friday.

Sedita says that Davis had diverted about $1,900 for his personal use.

In addition, Davis “failed to fully disclose all contributions made to his campaign during the period covered by that report.” In other words, he lied about how much money he’d received in campaign donations to the New York State Board of Elections. (Schroeder specified Davis’s January 2008 filing.) He had to lie, of course, because he had broken the law by diverting campaign donations into his personal account.

Sedita calls this “a crime of omission”: Davis failed to share information the law required him to share. But if one considers this failure to be a crime of commission—because he chose to lie on that report—then those two misdemeanors look like a good deal for Davis: In committing one crime to cover up another, Davis may have committed a felony under state law.

Davis was charged with filing a false instrument in the second degree, but why not the first degree as described here:

A person is guilty of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree when, knowing that a written instrument contains a false statement or false information, and with intent to defraud the state or any political subdivision, public authority or public benefit corporation of the state, he offers or presents it to a public office, public servant, public authority or public benefit corporation with the knowledge or belief that it will be filed with, registered or recorded in or otherwise become a part of the records of such public office, public servant, public authority or public benefit corporation.

Offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree is a class E felony.

Even if Davis lying on his disclosure reports to cover up his theft were not a felony, certainly the negotiation yielded a plea deal: Take the misdemeanors or risk our pursuing a felony upon convening a grand jury. (“That’s the plea deal,” said one Buffalo attorney. “The rest is double-talk.”) As for the sentencing, that’s scheduled for February, and we’ll see how rough Amodeo is on Davis. He’s the same judge who heard the case against Paul Clark and Roger Peck after the 2007 campaign for Erie County executive. (In that matter, former Deputy DA Mark Sacha accuses both Sedita and his predecessor, Frank Clark, of turning a blind eye to the complicity of Tim Clark, Paul Clark’s brother, and former Democratic county chairman Steve Pigeon, to whom both Clark and Sedita have strong political ties.) That case, too, ended in plea deals. The pnealties were strictly financial.

• • •

For a born-again, turn-the-other-cheek, ride-that-Gospel-ship, my-check-kiting-days-are-over Christian, political e-pamphleteer Joe Illuzzi certainly is given to fits of stunning vituperation. The bile he unloaded Monday night was particularly freighted with hate and slander: He dismissed Cheektowaga Democratic chairman Frank Max as a wife-beater. He wrote that Erie County Legislator Tom Mazur, who is vying to be the legislature’s chairman against the Grassroots candidate, Barbara Miller-Williams, had lost his teaching post at ECC after “sexually abusing a very young female student.” He reiterated Assemblyman Sam Hoyt’s marital infidelities, which he’d rolled out in a smear campaign during the 2008 campaign cycle.

He called Common Council President Dave Franczyk a racist. He added, “The Majority on the Buffalo Common Council is trying to lynch Brian Davis.” And then he threw in this item:

Oh! I almost forgot! Sources say unequivocally that a Majority member of the Buffalo Common Council got caught in a extra marital tryst. Did we mention it was a gay man. The gay guys partner made him come clean if he wanted a reconciliation. No names (We have names) just the facts – just the facts.

Who was the old blackmailer threatening with this gossip, and why?

Consider Illuzzi’s sponsors: He is the paid man of Byron Brown and Steve Casey—among others—who, like their opponents, are preparing for the fight to choose Davis’s successor. The Council’s majority coalition wants to fill the vacancy quickly, not only because the Ellicott District needs representation but because the Council is beginning to work on the mayor’s proposed capital budget. Last year, the majority held the capital budget hostage well into the new year, insisting on changes that the mayor refused to make, and unable to force the mayor’s hand because they lacked a sixth vote to overturn Brown’s veto.

The Ellicott District seat could provide that sixth vote this year, but they need to fill the vacancy before December 15, when the Council must make its changes to the mayor’s $22.7 million capital budget proposal.

It may seem like the majority should be able to pick whomever they like for that seat, after advertising the position, accepting resumes, interviewing candidates, and listening to the district’s Democratic committee members, whose recommendation is influential but non-binding. But a five-to-four majority is thin, and Brown and Casey might peel away one ambitious majority member. One of the five, for example, might be convinced to vote for the candidate backed by Brown and Casey (Janique Curry, perhaps?) in exchange for the Council presidency, which would be determined by a new majority comprising the mayor’s bloc—North, University, Masten, and Ellicott—plus the rogue member of the current majority.

That carrot, or one similar to it, is surely being dangled right now. Perhaps Illuzzi is the stick. If you don’t take the carrot, Brown and Casey may be saying, we can turn Illuzzi and his poison on you.

• • •

Add this name to the list of candidates eyeing Brian Davis’s seat: the Reverend Darius Pridgen. The pastor of True Bethel Baptist demurred to confirm his interest in a phone conversation on Wednesday afternoon—he said he’d wait until Davis had officially resigned to answer questions—but he did voice his concern “for the people of the Ellicott District, and for the people of Buffalo.”

Sounds like a candidate to me.

geoff kelly

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