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Monday, September 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Corfu trustees still trying to figure out if their mayor is on medical leave

post by Howard Owens in corfu, Ralph Peterson

A concern about spending taxpayer money has prompted the Village of Corfu Board to assign trustees Art Ianni and Keith Busch the task of contacting Mayor Ralph Peterson to find out if he intends to take a leave of absence.

Peterson did not attend Monday's village board meeting.

The village received a copy of a doctor's note Aug. 29 that said Peterson was advised to take a leave of absence through the end of the year, but Peterson has not communicated to the trustees or anybody else official whether he intends to follow the doctor's advice.

There's been no communication from him since.

"We need something signed by him," Bielec said.

Deputy Mayor David Bielec suggested the board have Village Attorney Mark Boylan contact Peterson to clarify the leave of absence situation and reiterate the board's request that Peterson resign from his post.

Ianni asked if he could just contact the mayor himself.

"If you think you can make headway, go ahead," Bielec said.

Busch said rather than spend money on an attorney, both he and Ianni should contact Peterson, he said.

"We don't want to spend too much taxpayer money," Busch said.

He took the same stand on the notion of filing a petition to the Supreme Court to have Peterson removed.

"The court procedure, from what I understand, is very expensive," Busch said.

Bielec said Boylan told him it only has a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

Peterson has been under fire throughout the first year of his first term, being accused of lying to the board, harassing employees, exercising authority he doesn't have and trying to cover up for his friend Robert Alexander. Alexander is a former village justice. His daughter, Brandi Watts, was indicted on grand larceny charges for allegedly stealing more than $10,000 in court funds while working as a clerk for Alexander.

Peterson would continue to draw, by law, his mayoral stipend, while on medical leave. Trustee Ken Laurer said he continues to work at his day job.

Peterson is reportedly suffering from medical issues related to stress. He was reportedly hospitalized for a time prior to trustees receiving his doctor's note.

For prior Ralph Peterson coverage, click here.

Monday, September 2, 2013 at 9:56 pm

State's highest court reviewing murder conviction of Scott Doll

post by Howard Owens in corfu, pembroke, scott doll

The murder conviction of Scott Doll, and whether he should have been read his Miranda warnings prior to questioning, will be reviewed by New York's highest court, according to an AP story on the Wall Street Journal's Web site.

The Court of Appeals heard arguments on Tuesday and could issue a ruling within a month.

Doll was convicted in a jury trial May 20, 2010 of murdering Joseph Benaquist, a friend, fellow former corrections officer, and a business partner.

On a cold winter night, Feb. 16, 2009, Doll was spotted by Deputy James Diehl, walking on Lake Road, Pembroke, wearing blood-soaked coveralls and carrying a tire iron.

Initially, Doll reportedly said the blood came from a butchered deer. Investigators were skeptical and questioned him for several hours.

At trial, defense attorney Paul Cambria tried to get Doll's statements thrown out because Doll had not been read his rights. The prosecution countered -- and Judge Robert C. Noonan upheld -- that under rules known as the "emergency doctrine," law enforcement can question a person without reading that person his rights.

The fear, according to the prosecution, was that a person was badly injured and in need of immediate medical attention.

The defense has maintained that without any actual evidence that a person was in fact hurt the emergency doctrine does not apply.

Some of the statements used against Doll where made to a friend who came to the Sheriff's Office on Park Road to talk with him while he was being held there. An investigator was in the room, taking notes during the conversation.

Even if the court rules in favor of Doll, the court would not necessarily order a new trial, but that could be a possible outcome if jurists find that Doll should have been read his rights prior to questioning, or at some point earlier in the investigation.

At trial, evidence against Doll included his blood-splattered overalls, titles and receipts for cars he and Benaquist bought and sold, and his proximity to the murder scene. At the start of the trial, Cambria raised the possibility that one of Doll's sons did the deed, but Doll's son had an alibis for the time of the murder. The prosecution's case largely rested on "if not Scott Doll, then who?"

Doll was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

He subsequently beat a jail contraband charge in a trial in City Court over some white powder found in a balloon on his body after his conviction. The powder turned out to be aspirin.

At the time of his arrest in 2009, he was already an announced candidate for mayor in the Village of Corfu. He lost the election to incumbent Todd Skeet.

For our prior Scott Doll coverage, click here.

Monday, September 2, 2013 at 8:54 am

Law and Order: Batavia man charged with grand larceny for alleged thefts from Walmart

post by Howard Owens in batavia, alexander, corfu, crime, Darien

Jason Daniel Lang, 29, of Liberty Street, Batavia, is charged with grand larceny, 4th. Lang is accused of stealing merchandise from Walmart during two separate visits. Lang was jailed on $2,500 bail. (For previous coverage of Jason Lang, click here).

Donald William Schulz, 34, of Garden Springs Drive, Mount Sterling, Ky., was arrested on a bench warrant for alleged failure to pay fine. Schulz is accused of failing to pay a fine or restitution on a manslaughter charge. Schulz was extradited and returned to Genesee County and is being held in Genesee County Jail pending arraignment in County Court.

Daniel Johnston Duryea, 32, of Grant Avenue, Humbolt, Neb., is charged with felony DWI, felony driving with a BAC of .08 or higher, moving from lane unsafely, failure to keep right and driving left of pavement markings in no passing zone. Duryea was stopped at 12:33 a.m., Sunday, on Route 238 in Alexander by Deputy Jason Saile.

Marc Harry Rice, 35, of Judith Drive, Cheektowaga, is charged with DWI, driving with a BAC of .18 or higher and failure to keep right. Rice was stopped at 8:13 p.m. Saturday on South Alleghany Road, Corfu, by Deputy Patrick Reeves.

MacKenzie Douglas Barrett, 17, of Eagle St., Medina, is charged with grand larceny, 4th. Barrett is accused of stealing about $2,000 in cash since June while employed at Darien Lake Theme Park.

Wesley C. Burgess, 29, of Jefferson Street, Attica, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. Burgess allegedly possessed a bag of marijuana and a pipe with marijuana residue while passing through a checkpoint at 12:08 a.m. Saturday on West Main Street Road, Batavia.

Monday, September 2, 2013 at 8:34 am

Thefts of four wheelers reported in western part of Genesee County

post by Howard Owens in corfu, crime, indian falls, pembroke

Investigators are looking for leads on who may behind a series of ATV thefts in the western part of Genesee County, said Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster.

Only two stolen four wheelers have been recovered from what Brewster called "a rash" of thefts in the Pembroke, Corfu and Indian Falls areas.

There have been no arrests and Brewster said it's likely the same individuals are responsible for all the thefts and that they are probably from outside the county.

"As always, owners should keep their property locked up when not in use and neighbors should report suspicious activity immediately," Brewster said.

For tips and information, the Sheriff's Office can be contacted at (585) 343-5000.

Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Corfu mayor gets doctor's note, but it's unclear if he will take leave of absence

post by Howard Owens in corfu, Ralph Peterson

Corfu Mayor Ralph Peterson has a doctor's note excusing him from official duties for the next four months.

It's unclear, however, if Peterson intends to follow his doctor's advice and take a leave of absence.

Peterson's girlfriend reportedly dropped the note off at the village hall on Thursday. There was no letter with the doctor's note indicating what Peterson intended to do.

The note from a Pembroke doctor reads simply, "To Whom it May Concern: Ralph Peterson is a patient in our practice who has been advised to take a medical leave of absence until January 2, 2014."

Trustee Ken Lauer said he's unsure himself if Peterson is taking a leave of absence or just had the note dropped off.

"Our assumption initially was this was him stating he wouldn't be back until January second, but upon reflection I think we need a formal letter stating as much," Lauer said.

Lauer said Sandra Thomas, village clerk, sent a note to village attorney Mark Boylan on Friday asking whether the note should be treated as a notice of a leave of absence, but Boylan has not yet responded.

Peterson's first nine months in office have been tumultuous with numerous controversies. Within the past month, trustees voted unanimously to ask that he resign.

If Peterson didn't resign, the trustees voted, they would seek his ouster through the NYS Supreme Court.

On Monday, after learning that Peterson was hospitalized, reportedly for a stress-related condition, the board agreed to delay petitioning the State Supreme Court until Peterson was in better health.

Lauer said Peterson's doctor's note is just a variable in the process, but as far as he's concerned, the board should continue to pursue the mayor's resignation or seek his removal from office.

Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Updates on four critically injured people

post by Howard Owens in batavia, bergen, corfu, Darien

In the past few weeks, we've had four people hospitalized with serious injuries. Here's what we know about them today.

  • Jason McNeil: McNeil's health is improving according to a Facebook post by his wife. He may be able to return home soon. McNeil was hit following the Kid Rock concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on July 6. Craig Lawson was recently indicted on a charge of assault, 2nd, and is scheduled to be arraigned on the charge next week.
  • Benjamin L. Falker, 16, was critically injured in an ATV accident Aug. 3. He remains listed in serious condition at ECMC.
  • Ashley M. Stillwell, 19, was a passenger on a motorcycle driven by her boyfriend Derek Sheldon when the bike struck a car at the intersection of Selden and West Bergen roads. Sheldon was killed in the accident. Stillwell was transported with serious injuries by Mercy Flight to Strong Memorial Hospital. As of today, Strong does not have Stillwell listed as a patient and we have no further information.
  • Scott Baker, 51, was critically injured during an apparent fight Sunday night on Harvester Avenue. He remains in a coma, listed in critical condition, at ECMC. Shane M. Bell is accused of hitting Baker and is charged with felony assault.

UPDATE 5:05 p.m.: We were contacted by State Police and told Stillwell remains a patient at Strong, regardless of Strong's patient record which does not list her.

UPDATE: Since the last update, I had another conversation with Trooper Victor Morales, Troop A's PIO. He said Stillwell is doing well. She's listed in good condition at Strong and could be released from the hospital soon. She suffered a broken pelvis, broken back and fractured knee cap. The accident reconstruction is not complete, but investigators believe that speed was not a factor. Stillwell does not remember them speeding prior to the accident, but even if they were, the other driver had clear visability for at least a mile down the road. At this point in time, no citations have been issued.

Monday, August 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm

Corfu trustees delay petition to court seeking Peterson's removal as mayor

post by Howard Owens in corfu, Ralph Peterson

The trustees of the Village of Corfu voted 4-0 on Monday to delay filing a petition with 4th Appellate Division of the NYS Supreme Court for the removal of Mayor Ralph Peterson from office.

Peterson is reportedly hospitalized and under observation by doctors. Peterson has reportedly told trustees and others that his undisclosed condition is related to stress.

After a closed session, Deputy Mayor David Bielec announced the board's decision to delay sending in the petition. The delay is intended to give Peterson time for his health to improve. The trustees want him to meet with Village Attorney Mark Boylan so Boylan can ascertain how Peterson intends to respond to the trustees' demand that he resign.

There was no response from Peterson to the board's demand for a resignation letter by 5 p.m. last Friday.

"We don't want to take any action until he's out of the hospital," Bielec said. "We want to discuss it within and get a firm decision before we go through the court procedure. It's a very expensive process and you can't know the outcome until you get there."

Trustee Art Ianni also asked the board to reconsider its aggressive approach to trying and recover more than $10,000 in missing court funds.

The trustees believe that regardless of how the funds went missing -- former court clerk Brandi Watts is accused of stealing it -- former village justice Robert Alexander is legally responsible to reimburse the village for the shortage.

Watts is the daughter of Alexander.

"Based on our budget, based on our court budget, this (the $10,000) is a small percentage of dollars," Ianni said. "I don't mind trying to recover it, but it's the kill zone we're looking at when it comes to the families and actions that might come out. I would like to ask the board to take another look at what potentially could happen from our actions. ... We could recover $10,000 and find out we destroyed two families. Is this something we could have some compassion about and say, 'Look, they've lost their jobs and their reputations?' "

When asked, though, Ianni said he would still vote yes on any motion trying to recover the funds.

Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 10:24 am

Robert Alexander suspended as justice in the Town of Pembroke

post by Howard Owens in corfu, crime, Robert Alexander

Robert E. Alexander has been suspended with pay effective Thursday as justice in the Town of Pembroke in an order signed by NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Alexander is under indictment on charges of coercion and official misconduct. He's also been accused -- but not charged with any crime -- of threatening a Town of Pembroke board member.

A former Village of Corfu justice, Alexander's troubles started June 2012 when a NYS Comptroller's Office audit allegedly uncovered at least $10,000 in missing court funds.

In June, Alexander's daughter, Brandi Watts, who was the Village of Corfu court clerk during the period of time covered by the audit, was indicted on 61 counts, including felony counts of grand larceny.

In July, Lippman ordered Alexander removed from all pending court cases in Pembroke and barred him from hearing any future cases pending the outcome of the criminal case against him.

The charges against Alexander stem from a compliant lodged by the current court clerk, Pam Yasses, that Alexander harassed her after initially directing her to conduct an audit of the court records and then reportedly being unhappy with the results when Yasses said she confirmed at least $10,000 in missing funds.

Alexander has denied any wrongdoing.

Further Reading: This morning we found this undated story about Alexander on the 700 Club Web site.

Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 9:49 am

No mayoral resignation forthcoming in Corfu, so what courts call 'drastic remedy' next option for trustees

post by Howard Owens in corfu, Ralph Peterson
Mayor Ralph Peterson (file photo)

Corfu Mayor Ralph Peterson did not respond to an Aug. 16 letter from Village Attorney Mark Boylan demanding his resignation.

The letter was sent to Peterson at the direction of the board of trustees and alleges Peterson has taken several actions not in the best interest of the village.

Peterson was given a deadline of 5 p.m., Aug. 23, to submit his resignation or face a petition to the appellate division of the NYS Supreme Court seeking his removal from office.

It will not necessarily be easy to convince the court to remove an elected official from office. In prior cases, justices have ruled that removal under Section 36 of the Public Officers Law is a "drastic remedy."

According to a ruling in 2011 on an attempt to remove the mayor of the Village of Middleburgh, the trustees seeking Peterson's ouster will need to build a case that shows "unscrupulous conduct or gross dereliction of duty or conduct that connotes a pattern of misconduct and abuse of authority."

Actions that are considered "minor neglect" or "administrative oversights" and even some violations of the law do not rise to the level of misconduct serious enough for the "drastic remedy."

If the removal case against Peterson goes forward, it will be up to a panel of justices in the 4th Appellate Division to determine if the case presented against him is sufficient.

Boylan's letter to Peterson probably lays out the case the trustees will try to make against the mayor.

The letter accuses Peterson of:

  • A general pattern of obstruction and interference with village board attempts to hold Judge Robert Alexander and his daughter Brandi Watts, a former court clerk, accountable for court funds found to be missing by a state audit. "It's clear your relationship with the judge has influenced many of your decisions in this matter."
  • Peterson is accused of withholding a settlement offer letter from an attorney representing part-time police officers who have threatened a lawsuit against the village over pay and scheduling issues. Peterson reportedly received the letter in May but kept knowledge of the letter to himself until August despite repeated requests by trustees for updates on the threatened suit. During an Aug. 12 closed session meeting, Peterson allegedly told trustees, with Boylan in the room, that he wanted the suit to go forward so the village's insurance company would pay off the officers.
  • During his time in office, Peterson is accused of trying to use his power as mayor to retaliate against former Deputy Mayor Al Graham over a long history of disagreements by getting Graham removed from his job as supervisor, working for Camden Group, of the Corfu sewer plant. Peterson allegedly threatened to "see to it" that Camden's contract with Corfu would be terminated if Graham was not removed.
  • Peterson is also accused of harassing and intimidating village employees Sandra Thomas, clerk, and Denise Beal, deputy clerk. The letter states that Peterson's actions have subjected the village to potential litigation.
  • During his time in office, Peterson is accused of abusing his authority several times, including hiring police officers without board approval and renewing village insurance policies without board consent.

In example cases we can find, courts have shown some reluctance for removing elected officials.

In a 1976 case, a justice wrote:

The court certainly recognizes the sacred right of the people to choose their elected officials. Section 36 of the Public Officers Law is in no way intended to interfere with this vital aspect of democratic society. Rather, this section has been enacted to protect the citizens from an elected official who by his misconduct, malfeasance, maladministration or malversation, abuses his public trust, harms the public interest and violates his oath of office.

The case cites a prior case with this observation:

The intent of the law is to bestow on the courts discretion to draw a line between an actual intentional breach and mere oversight. Thus, certain administrative oversights and municipal accounting deficiencies by the Mayor of a village, though clearly technical violations of village law, were found attributable to the Mayor's inexperience and did not constitute grounds for removal. (Matter of Pisciotta, supra.) Had the deficiencies continued unabated, such continuation could be found to constitute an intentional disregard of duty.

Removal of an elected official by the court, however, is not without precedent. In 1997, Victor R. Grant, supervisor of the Town of Lake Luzerne was removed from office.

In that case, Grant was found to have engaged in a willful conflict of interest by acting as insurance broker for the town's insurance policy, drawing commissions on the sale and renewal of the policy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 8:28 am

Law and Order: Woman accused of using knife to attack and injure people

post by Howard Owens in batavia, corfu, crime, elba, Pavilion

Latoya D. Jackson, 27, of 112 State St., Batavia, is charged with acting in a manner injurious to a child less than 17, assault 2nd, and assault 2nd (recklessly causing serious injury with a weapon). Jackson was allegedly involved in a fight at 121 Liberty St., Batavia, in which she injured two people with a knife at 8:39 p.m., Monday.

Dustin W. Bogue, 31, of 109 Oak St., Batavia, is charged with criminal trespass, 2nd, criminal contempt, 1st, harassment, 2nd. Bogue is accused of violating a no-offensive-conduct order of protect.

Michael S. Lytle, 24, of 11 Wood St., Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 2nd, for allegedly violating an order of protection.

Raymond Paul Meshlovitz, 34, of Main Road, Corfu, is charged with criminal possession of a weapon, 4th, and unlawful possession of a prescription form. During a search of his residence by probation, Meshlovitz was allegedly found in possession of brass knuckles, a switchblade knife and prescription forms.

Jacob Duane Defisher, 17, of Roanoke Road, Pavilion, is charged with petit larceny. Defisher is accused of stealing money from Darien Lake while employed there.

Amanda Marie Bowles, 28, of Williams Street Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Bowles is accused of shoplifting from Walmart.

Tammy L. Draper, 46, of 22 Porter Ave., Batavia, is charged with disorderly conduct. Draper is accused of making obscene gestures and yelling obscenities while on State Street at 3:39 p.m., Saturday.

Landrea D. Wroten, 41, of 5 Dellinger Ave., Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Wroten is accused of stealing a friend's purse.

Cody D. Cutitta, 26, of 5 Fairmont Ave., Batavia, is charged with aggravated harassment and disorderly conduct. Cutitta is accused of standing in the middle of Fairmont Avenue and swearing at 2:15 a.m. He's also accused of making threats by phone.

Nicola Marchesoni, 53, of Hamilton Street, Albion, is charged with driving while impaired by drugs, unlawful possession of marijuana, failure ot keep right and moving from lane unsafely. Marchesoni was stopped at 9:20 p.m. Tuesday on Quaker Hill Road, Elba, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

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