Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was indicted Friday on charges she broke campaign finance rules and committed fraud during her reelection campaign three years ago, adding another layer of crisis in a city that has been reeling over its handling of a police killing.
Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley also announced charges against Warren’s campaign treasurer, Albert Jones Jr., and the treasurer of her political action committee, Rosalind Brooks-Harris.
The indictment dramatically increases political peril for Warren, who was already facing calls to resign for the city’s handling of the suffocation of Daniel Prude. The Democrat is midway through her second term as the first female and second Black mayor of Rochester, a city of more than 200,000 by Lake Ontario.
Elections officials began fielding complaints about Warren's campaign finances in 2017, when Warren defeated two challengers in a Democratic primary prior to her reelection. In March, the state Board of Elections presented Doorley with a 35-page report “that found considerable evidence” that Warrren, Jones and Brooks-Harris may have violated the law, the prosecutor said at a news conference.
“Our investigation began in earnest at this point, but was slowed due to the corona 19 pandemic,” she said. A grand jury was empaneled in September and wrapped up its work on Friday.
The indictment alleges Warren and the others took steps to evade contribution limits between Nov. 6, 2013 and Nov. 7, 2017.
“The indictment alleges that it was not a mistake,” Doorley told reporters.
Warren had previously denied any attempt to evade campaign finance rules, blamed errors on sloppy bookkeeping and referred to the investigation as a “political witch hunt.”
“She wants you to know Monday morning that she’s coming to work and she’s going to represent the constituents with the same vigor and dedication that she does every single day on the job,” her attorney, Joseph Damelio, told reporters in Rochester. “She’s going to walk into the building with her head held high and she’s going to go to work."
"We know there’s some problems in this city and she’s working to correct them,” said Damelio, adding he wants a quick trial because Warren plans to run again next year.
The lawyer did not immediately return phone and email messages to The Associated Press.
Doorley, a Republican, denied politics played a role in the investigation. She said Warren was offered the opportunity to testify before the grand jury.
“The mayor has counsel so we could not speak to her directly,” Doorley said. She said the indictment doesn't affect Warren's ability to serve as mayor.
“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.”
Warren's arraignment, on charges of scheming to defraud and violating election laws, was scheduled for Monday. If convicted, she could face a maximum of 16 months to four years in prison and removal from office.
Demonstrators have been calling for reforms and top-level resignations in Rochester since videos were released in September of Prude being handcuffed by officers on a city street. Officers put a hood over his head to stop him from spitting, then held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He died a week later after he was taken off life support.
The body-camera video was taken early on the morning of March 23, but wasn’t released until five months later after an open records request by Prude’s family.
Critics accused police and city officials of covering up Prude’s killing, though Warren said she had no idea the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide until Aug. 4, when she saw the video.