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Mayor Lovely Warren pleads not guilty to felony charges 

click to enlarge Mayor Lovely Warren exited the courthouse to a throng of supporters after her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance violations on Oct. 5, 2020.

PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE

Mayor Lovely Warren exited the courthouse to a throng of supporters after her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance violations on Oct. 5, 2020.

Mayor Lovely Warren and two of her political associates, including the city of Rochester's finance director, pleaded not guilty Monday during their arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance violations.

The associates arraigned with Warren were Albert Jones Jr., who was the treasurer of Warren’s 2017 re-election campaign, and Rosalind Brooks, who was the treasurer of a now-defunct 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.

The three of them face two charges, including illegal coordination between political committees for the purpose of evading donor limits and participating in a scheme to defraud in the first degree.
Both charges are classified as nonviolent Class E felonies, which carry penalties that range from no jail time, to probation, to up to four years in prison.
The arraignment took place in Monroe County Court in downtown Rochester, but the proceeding was presided over by Cayuga County Court Judge Thomas Leone.

Outside the courthouse while the mayor was being arraigned, a throng of supporters gathered and sang religious hymns while they awaited entry or word from what was happening inside. Capacity restrictions due to the pandemic limited the number of people allowed inside the courthouse.

"In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have the victory," they sang.
click to enlarge A throng of supporters of Mayor Lovely Warren outside the courthouse where she was arraigned on Oct. 5, 2020. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • A throng of supporters of Mayor Lovely Warren outside the courthouse where she was arraigned on Oct. 5, 2020.
Pastor Cynthia Anderson, of Faith Bible Tabernacle Center, was among the supporters. She said the charges against Warren were an attempt to tarnish her reputation and referred to the case as “demonic”.

“We’re not scared of nobody with their accusations,” Anderson said. “We’re going to fight this in prayer, because that's what we do.”

Some  supporters said they were there because of Warren's accomplishments in office. Zedrick Wilson, who held a sign that read, "We still believe," said he would vote for Warren again.

“I’ve seen her create jobs for so many people,” Wilson said.
click to enlarge Mayor Lovely Warren and her lawyer, Joseph Damelio, enter the courthouse for her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance violations on Oct. 5, 2020. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Mayor Lovely Warren and her lawyer, Joseph Damelio, enter the courthouse for her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance violations on Oct. 5, 2020.
The arraignment took only a few minutes, with Warren answering a few brief questions from the judge after her lawyer, Joseph Damelio, entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf.

The judge asked Warren, who sat masked and in the front row of the gallery,  whether she understood the charges and his instructions that she was to stay in touch with her lawyer and appear in court for scheduled hearings. She said she did.

Leone set dates of Dec. 7 and 17 for the defense and the prosecution, respectively, to submit pre-trial briefs, and scheduled an oral argument on those motions for Jan. 12 at 2 p.m.

The case appears to hinge on the findings of state Board of Elections investigators.

In March, the board's chief investigator, Risa Sugarman, forwarded a copy of a 35-page report to the Monroe County District Attorney's Office that found "considerable evidence" that Warren, Brooks-Harris, and Jones conspired to circumvent state limits on campaign donations.

That report pointed to, among other things, transfers of funds between Warren's campaign committee and her political action committee.
click to enlarge Rosalind Brooks-Harris, finance director of the city of Rochester, and the former treasurer of the Warren for a Strong Rochester political action committee, leaves the courthouse after her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance allegations on Oct. 5, 2020. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Rosalind Brooks-Harris, finance director of the city of Rochester, and the former treasurer of the Warren for a Strong Rochester political action committee, leaves the courthouse after her arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance allegations on Oct. 5, 2020.
There is no timeline for a trial, although Damelio has said that he hopes a trial could be expedited, noting that Warren has signaled her intent to run for re-election next year.

"She welcomes the opportunity for the public to see whether or not the district attorney's hold any water or if there's a failure in those charges," Damelio said following the arraignment. "It's our position that they will not be able to meet their burden of proof."

Damelio said he would ask the court to examine the grand jury proceedings and determine whether there was sufficient evidence to bring the charges and whether the proceedings were defective.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, in announcing the charges against Warren last week, said she expected a trial could be some time away. She noted that Monroe County just recently began holding jury trials again since the outset of the pandemic and that those trials are scheduled for one per week.
click to enlarge Albert Jones Jr. (left), the former treasurer of the Friends of Lovely Warren campaign committee, leaves the courthouse after his arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance allegations on Oct. 5, 2020. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE
  • Albert Jones Jr. (left), the former treasurer of the Friends of Lovely Warren campaign committee, leaves the courthouse after his arraignment on felony charges related to alleged campaign finance allegations on Oct. 5, 2020.
"This could be quite, you know, a long process, and we anticipate there will be challenges along the way," Doorley said, "so I don't think this is anything that will be resolved quickly, in my opinion."

Warren exited the courthouse while her co-defendants were still being arraigned inside and did not take questions from reporters.

She was greeted enthusiastically by her supporters, who clapped and cheered and chanted, "We still believe! We still believe!"

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.
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