Mayor Warren will resign by Dec. 1 after accepting plea deal
Mayor Lovely Warren will resign from office on or before Dec. 1 under a plea deal reached Monday in Monroe County Court that resolves the felony campaign finance charges against her, as well as gun and child endangerment charges from an unrelated case.
Under the City Charter, the mayor's departure means that her deputy, James Smith, will act as mayor through the end of her term, which expires at the end of the year.
Smith will presumably be replaced by Malik Evans, who defeated Warren in the Democratic primary and is expected to be the mayor-elect come Election Day.
"Her decision marks the end of a difficult chapter in our city," City Council President Loretta Scott said in a statement that pledged a smooth transition and thanked Warren for her dedication to Rochester.
Warren and two of her political associates had been charged with two felony counts apiece: illegal coordination between political committees for the purpose of evading donor limits and participating in a scheme to defraud in the first degree.
But as their trial was scheduled to get under way, with a jury selection slated for the afternoon, the prosecution and the defense struck a deal that had the mayor and her co-defendants plead guilty to a single misdemeanor campaign finance charge.
The charge was a violation of section 14-126 (5) of the state Election Law, which makes it a crime to "knowingly and willfully" accept campaign contributions in excess of the donor limit.
The other defendants were Warren's campaign treasurer, Albert Jones Jr., and Rosalind Brooks, who was the treasurer of a political action committee created by Warren called Warren for a Strong Rochester. Brooks, who also goes by Rosalind Brooks-Harris, is the city’s finance director.
Their combined guilty pleas ended a trial that was expected to last as many as five weeks. All three were sentenced to a yearlong conditional discharge.
For Jones and Brooks, the condition was that they stay out of trouble for the year. For Warren, the condition was that she stay out of trouble and agree to resign her office.
When asked by the judge if she thought the plea was in her best interest, Warren replied, “Yes, and my daughter’s best interest.”
Warren had been charged, along with her estranged husband, with a felony firearms charge and two misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child.
Those charges stemmed from another pending criminal matter in which her husband, Timothy Granison, has been accused of being a player in a drug-trafficking ring. Prosecutors allege he illegally kept firearms in the home he shared with the mayor and their young daughter and took the girl on drug deals.
After pleading guilty to the misdemeanor campaign finance violation, Warren was invited to address the court, but declined on the advice of her counsel.
A subdued Warren left the courtroom on the fourth floor of the Hall of Justice without addressing the throng of reporters who followed her to the elevator bank shouting questions.
"We know the mayor is not a drug dealer. We know the mayor isn't a gun-toting person who is irresponsible and doesn't look after her child," her lawyer, Joe Damelio, told reporters. "Moreover, she is that person who looks after her child and is concerned for her child and that's part of the reason that she entered a peal today, because she didn't want to put her kid through all this."
He said she also pleaded guilty to accepting excessive campaign donations because she did.
"It's something that she admitted to well over a year ago," Damelio said. "She said, 'I did these things. There were reasons for it, but I did these things.' She was not indicted for what she pled guilty to … That's why we were ready to go to trail, because she did not do those things."
He cast the "fighter" and acknowledged that the condition of her plea deal that she resign was a sticking point in the negotiations.
"That certainly was an issue in this case, resignation, because, look, she's going to be out of that office in less than 30 days after the resignation point so she will fulfill her term more or less," Damelio said.
A felony conviction would have resulted in Warren’s automatic removal from office. Warren, a registered attorney, also would have been automatically disbarred.
A lawyer charged with a misdemeanor could still be disbarred, but the threshold rests on whether the bar association believes the crime in question was one of "moral turpitude" — an unlikely scenario in the case of Warren.
Accusations that Warren circumvented state campaign finance laws to bolster her re-election chances in 2017 have dogged her for four years.
She was first accused by her opponents in the race — Monroe County Legislator Rachel Barnhart and James Sheppard, a former county legislator and Rochester police chief — and then by the state Board of Elections’ chief investigator. Later, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley followed suit. Last year, a grand jury indicted Warren and her associates on the felony charges.
Prosecutors alleged that Warren and her associates illegally commingled the finances of two committees, one meant to fund Warren’s 2017 re-election campaign and the other a political action committee for the betterment of the city of Rochester. They also alleged that the political action committee was a fraud set up to skirt campaign donor limits to Warren’s campaign.
Political action committees can give money to a candidate for office, but they cannot spend on behalf of a candidate’s campaign. When a PAC gives money to a candidate, it is restricted to the same limits as any other donor.
The donation limit in the 2017 mayoral election cycle was $8,557, but records show that Warren for a Strong Rochester had transferred $30,000 to Friends of Lovely Warren.
Throughout the months leading up to the trial, Warren had insisted that the motivation for her prosecution was political, an accusation prosecutors flatly denied.
"In every case that comes through our criminal justice system, we thoroughly review the evidence, charges, and seek an appropriate disposition," Doorley said in a statement after the plea deal.
"The Monroe County District Attorney's Office is pleased that all three defendants are willing to take responsibility for their actions and admit their wrongdoing," the statement read in part. "This is an important step in our larger efforts in promoting ethical elections in our state."