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Monday, December 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Law an Order: Bergen resident accused of passing forged check

post by Howard B. Owens in Basom, batavia, Alabama, bergen, corfu, crime, pembroke

Dustin Michael Locicero, 29, of Gibson Street, Bergen, is charged with forgery 2nd. Locicero was arrested following an investigation into a complaint of a stolen check and its forged use at a location in the City of Batavia. Locicero was jailed without bail.

Thomas E. Newcomb, 42, of 27 E. Main St., Le Roy, is charged with harassment, 2nd, and endangering the welfare of a child. Newcomb is accused of striking a woman in the face with his hand during an argument.

Brandon David Gendron, 25, of Judge Road, Basom, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana, uninspected motor vehicle and failure to keep right. Gendron was stopped at 11:25 p.m. Fridayon Fotch Road, Stafford, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

Stephen Joseph Peters, 18, of Wyoming Road, Warsaw, is charged with petit larceny. Peters accused of shoplifting from Walmart.

David William Buchholtz, 54, of North Spruce Street, Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Buchholtz is accused of shoplifting from Walmart.

Harry Lee Flatt, 68, of Fruit Avenue, Medina, is charged with felony DWI, felony driving with a BAC of .08 or greater, failure to keep right and moving from lane unsafely.

Donald Anthony Irwin, 43, of Main Road, Stafford, is charged with criminal possession of a weapon. Irwin was allegedly found in possession of a metal knuckle knife following a property damage accident at 9:12 p.m. Thursday in the Walmart parking lot.

Michael J. Wall, 39, of Oak Orchard Road, Elba, is charged with criminal obstruction of breathing and endangering the welfare of a child. Wall was arrested following an investigation into an alleged domestic incident reported at 6:40 a.m., Nov. 23.

Christopher Brian King, 22, of Pearl Street Road, Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. King is accused of ordering food at the Denny's in Pembroke and leaving without paying for the food.

Dana Robert Devin Cipra, 21, of West Main Street, Batavia, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. Cipra was arrested following a traffic stop at 12:47 a.m. Thursday on Route 77, Corfu, by Deputy Joseph Corona.

Danielle M. Stevens, 37, of Ford Road, Elba, is charged with petit larceny. Stevens was arrested after a check of video surveillance footage indicated she allegedly stole two vacuums from Walmart.

Robert Allen Norway, 40, of Lake Avenue, Rochester, is charged with violation of a Family Court order. Norway was arrested on a warrant out of Family Court.

Monday, November 25, 2013 at 11:35 am

Law and Order: Suspect in burglary in Corfu arrested in Amherst after brief foot pursuit

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Alabama, corfu, crime

Patrick Raymond Krieger, 23, of Exchange Street, Akron, is charged with burglary 2nd, criminal contempt, 1st, menacing, 2nd. Krieger was arrested in the Town of Amherst after a brief foot pursuit by State Police, the Cheektowaga PD, Amherst PD and the Erie County Sheriff's Office. Krieger was turned over to the Genesee County Sheriff's Offices on charges stemming from an alleged incident reported in the Village of Corfu at 7:10 a.m., Friday. He was jailed on $30,000 cash bail or $50,000 bond.

Shannon L. Smith, 37, of 2 Goad Park, upper, Batavia, is charged with harassment, 2nd. Smith was arrested following an investigation into a disturbance at 96 River St., Batavia.

Philip E. Wolfe, 58, of Alabama, is charged with petit larceny. Wolfe was arrested by State Police. No further details released.

Daniel T. Henning, 33, of Batavia, is charged with petit larceny. Henning was arrested by State Police. No further details released.

Monday, November 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Plea agreement in Corfu's missing court funds case includes dismissal of charges against judge

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu

The forced resignation, said Special Prosecutor Donald O'Geen, of Robert Alexander from the justice position in the Town of Pembroke is a stiff punishment for the former Village of Corfu justice who was charged with official misconduct.

As part of a plea deal that included the restitution of more than $10,000 by Brandi Watts, Alexander's daughter, and her guilty plea to falsifying government documents, Alexander has a chance to have all three charges against him dismissed in six months.

It's called an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Alexander need only stay out of trouble for the next six months and the counts of official misconduct and coercion will be dropped.

He is also barred from seeking judicial office.

"The end game, Corfu got their money back," O'Geen said. "The person who stole the money, or at least tampered with the public records, is being held accountable. I think having him resign, basically in disgrace is justice for the people of Corfu."

While that outcome may not satisfy those in Corfu who wanted to see Alexander behind bars, O'Geen said people need to understand how the system works.

The charges against Alexander were misdemeanors and Alexander has no prior record.

"Justice comes in many forms," O'Geen said. "We have to deal with the case as it's given to us. Not everything is cut and dry. We also have to figure out what the judge (in the case) is going to do. I just felt like in a case like this, Judge Alexander wasn't going to jail. I don't think he would even been given probation, so as part of a package deal with Brandi, I think this does bring it to a just resolution."

Alexander says the outcome was justice because he hadn't broken the law.

"As Jesus Christ as my witness, as God as my witness, I never intended, nor thought about, or never did, anything in the last 30 years that I've been saved as a Christian that I would ever do anything that would even think about violating the law," Alexander said. "I just thank God this case has ended the way it has. I think it's a fair disposition."

One thing people need to look at in the case, O'Geen said, is how quickly it came to a resolution once it got in the hands of a prosecutor. O'Geen was critical of the Judicial Conduct Commission for, first, taking so long to investigate Alexander's courtroom and, second, to take two yeas to issue a report on its investigation.

"Why did this drag out?" O'Geen asked. "They had the case for over two years. Why didn't they speak to the DA when the DA is investigating the case? Why does this get dragged out? I've only had this case since February and I've brought it to resolution for the Village of Corfu in a quick manner."

O'Geen praised the cooperation of the village attorney, the comptroller's office and the state police for working cooperatively to bring the case to a speedy conclusion.

Alexander said he will have more to say about the case six months from now. He's next scheduled to appear in court at 9:15 a.m., May 19.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Corfu trustees plan first step toward study of dissolving village government

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu

There are some residents who have been pushing to dissolve the Village of Corfu for a decade, said Trustee Ken Lauer.

Depending on the outcome of a meeting early next month, they may get their chance to take a serious look of what the future would look like without a Corfu municipal government.

At its first meeting in December, the village trustees will hear from a grant writer who will explain what it takes to study whether to dissolve the village.

The cost of the study can be from $40,000 to $50,000, according to Deputy Mayor David Bielec.

While there's grant money available from the state, if the village accepts the grant and then doesn't complete dissolution, the local government will be on the hook for half the cost of the study.

"There's a very good possibility the village won't want to take that kind of chance," Blelec said.

The study will answer, or try to answer, all of the unknown questions of dissolution -- will elimination of the court and police department save money; who will plow sidewalks and pick up yard waste; what other services will be lost; how will it effect sewer payments; what happens to the current village department; and most importantly, can village residents realistically expect lower taxes?

"I think it's a good idea, but until you do the financials, you really don't know," Blelec said.

Lauer is also on the fence.

"Am I for it or against it? I want to see the study," Lauer said. "There's good points and there's bad points as far as I can see. As a citizen I've often said what am I paying for?  If I'm paying $300, $500 a year in taxes to the village, what do I get? The sidewalks plowed. Brush pick-up. That's really about it."

Both Lauer and Blelec said they don't believe the turmoil of the past two years -- from the theft of court funds to the behavior of Mayor Ralph Peterson -- are what's driving talk of dissolution. The idea was already in the air before those issues came up.

"It helped bring it to a fruition, but I don't think it was a cause, a direct cause," Lauer said.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Dump truck has struck power lines on Route 77, Corfu

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, fire

Power lines are reportedly sparking along Route 77 near Cohocton after a dump truck hit them.

The driver is out of the vehicle.

Corfu fire is responding.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Commission finds poor bookkeeping in Corfu court making it impossible to account for all the funds

post by Howard B. Owens in alexander, Brandi Watts, corfu, Robert Alexander

It's likely the taxpayers of Corfu may never know just how much money went missing from the Village Court during the years that Judge Robert Alexander sat on the bench and his daughter, Brandi Watts, was his court clerk.

Watts has already reimbursed the village $10,128 as part of her agreement to plead guilty last week to a single count of tampering with government records, a Class D felony.

A report issued yesterday by the NYS Judicial Review Commission says its investigation found more than $14,000 went undeposited in the court's bank acount from Jan. 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010.

That's one of the problems with the case, said Special Prosecutor Donald O'Geen -- nobody can agree how much money is missing. The comptroller came up with a different figure and Pam Yasses, the current court clerk, did her own audit and came up with a completely different figure.

At the heart of the judicial commission's review, as it was with the comptroller's original audit, is that the bookkeeping was apparently just plain sloppy during Alexander's administration of the court.

For example, there's more than $51,000 in funds received by the court during the period reviewed by the commission that aren't properly recorded. The commission said there is simply no record of where the money came from.

In 39 out of 50 cash deposits during the time period, the court records and bank documents don't reconcile.

Watts allegedly failed to issue receipts for payments on fines in 379 traffic ticket cases during the review period.

O'Geen said the easiest part of the case to prove against Watts, and what eventually led to her guilty plea, was the paper trail indicating the Watts would charge people paying a traffic ticket by check more than the fine imposed by Alexander. O'Geen said he believes Watts was using that higher charge to back fill for funds she was taking from cash fine payments.

The possibility of more missing money from the same time period isn't likely to lead to new charges against either Alexander nor Watts, O'Geen said. In the case of Watts, it would constitute double jeopardy to charge her for essentially the same crime twice, and for Alexander, there's no indication he ever actually took any money himself.

Alexander is legally liable for any missing funds in the court during his time in office. However, it would be up to the Village of Corfu to decide what it could prove is missing beyond the $10,128 already paid back and any potential higher amount believed missing.

"One of the biggest problems with this case," O'Geen said, "is the records are simply in disarray."

The judicial commission's report also complains that Alexander was reducing the fine amount on traffic tickets and waiving surcharges so that the state wasn't getting its share of the revenue.

More than 2,300 traffic tickets during the review period should have resulted in fines being remitted to the state, but did not, the report states.

O'Geen noted that in just about every jurisdiction in the state, judges routinely reduce traffic violations to a parking ticket with a fine that goes entirely to the local jurisdiction.

To fix that, the state recently added a surcharge to parking tickets, O'Geen said.

The commission also criticized Alexander for hiring his daughter without proper judicial commission approval.

During our conversation, O'Geen also referenced a comptroller's audit in October of the court in the Town of Alexander that found the court failed to maintain good accounting records, with nearly 1,900 traffic tickets still pending that should have been resolved.

The local municipal justice system is broken, O'Geen said.

"They're (Corfu) are not unique and that's part of the problem," O'Geen said. "There's a larger conversation to have that the system is bigger than part-time judges and part-time clerks can handle."

In calling for Alexander's removal from the bench -- Alexander resigned from his remaining court position in Pembroke last week -- the commission used harsh language to criticize the former justice.

The commission said Alexander "failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary by failing to maintain high standards of conduct," that he "failed to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety," that he "failed to respect and comply with the law and failed to act in a manner that protects public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

Monday, November 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Citizens committee delivers open letter to Corfu residents raising issues about Village mayor

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu

This letter was distributed today to Village of Corfu residents.

The purpose of this Concerned Citizens Committee’s letter is to distribute important information so all of you are aware of the following issues with Mayor Ralph Peterson. We believe that his actions reflect poorly on our village and do not provide us with an honorable and respectful form of governance.

  • Harassment complaints filed by Sandra Thomas, Village clerk, and Denise Beal, Deputy Village clerk; Cease & Desist notification sent by Mark Boylan, Village attorney.
  • August 6 – a 2-page FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request for 13 items sent to mayor. No response as required by NYS law.
  • False claim of racism allegedly from Mayor Peterson against Ms. Ware apparently in retaliation for her reading the above August 6 document into the public record on behalf of the 17-member committee.
  • Two requests from the Village board calling for his resignation – no response.
  • August 21 letter to the Village board requesting an investigation of possible mal, mis, and nonfeasance.
  • Missing numerous Village meetings without his submitting a written request for excuse for medical leave – he is apparently still going to work and still going out to Muckdog events and OTB /Batavia Downs. Is he still getting paid for a no-show job?
  • Using his personal e-mail account to conduct Village business. This mailbox is full; relevant and possible critical documents are being sent back to senders. How can the Village board on behalf of you, the residents & taxpayers, conduct business??
  • His behavior is inexcusable and incredibly disrespectful. His campaign promise was to stop the personal attacks. Why then does he repeatedly, during Village meetings, refer to trustee Ken Lauer as Ken LIAR?

Respectfully submitted, the Concerned Citizens Committee Members:

Jenny McMartin, Nicholas Skeet, Al Graham, Debbie Graham, Jean Marsick, Pam Ware, Todd Skeet, Lois Ingalsbe, Mary Ellen O’Connor, Richard DeGrood, Doris Matteson, Sandra Szumigala, Charles J. Lenhard, James A. Rupracht, Lori L. Rupracht, Ryan J. Rupracht, Jennifer Eck.                                             

Friday, November 1, 2013 at 8:09 am

Corfu trustee responds to conviction of former court clerk on theft of village funds

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu

Trustee Ken Lauer sent The Batavian the following statement following an e-mail conversation about the guilty plea yesterday of Brandi Watts, the former court clerk in Corfu who falisfied court documents to help her steal more than $10,000 from the village. Lauer was reacting to statements by Special Prosecutor Donald O'Geen about the conviction marking a new day, a day to move forward, in Corfu.

I'm a pretty pessimistic guy and I don't really agree with this as a close of a period nor the moving on statement. We have already been moving on and as a community we stood up to the bullies and their abuse of public funds, property and personnel. Justice is always slower. The issue of Peterson is still not done. The wasting of close to $50K in public funds just by the village for legal services related to Alexander, Watts and Peterson is far from covered by the $10K she paid (Note: The Comptroller office did not audit her entire term as court clerk. They only did November 2009 through February 2011. I'm sure a larger audit and call to the public would uncover more but I doubt that the cost could be justified). The amount that this circus has cost the taxpayers of Genesee County and NYS in audits, law enforcement and legal costs I'm sure exceeds what the village paid. And that doesn't account for the lost time that could have been spent on other matters NOR the level of distrust that this case has put on the NYS Judicial office and our 'little speed trap' here in Corfu. 

For 22 plus years Alexander ruled Pembroke like a judge Roy Bean. He certainly tried to be on the 2012 ballot for the Corfu Justice post despite the investigation. It was only the unified efforts of citizens in Corfu that kept him off the ballot as he tried for both the Dem. and Rep. endorsement. Not Albany or the NYS Judicial system. However, to put all the blame on the former judge is not entirely fair. Corfu is not an isolated incident of abuse. Instead it is a perfect example of a problem that often occurs in NYS with courts and fines because there are gaps and "special keys"  in the system that can tempt even the most honest of civic officials. We as individuals need to pressure Albany to fix this. We need to trust that our money is being properly appropriated by government officials.

As a community, we still have work to do cleaning up the issues Alexander, Watts and Peterson have created for the village and it is not going to happen overnight. Restoring a trust lost is a very hard thing to do and it will take time. Two of the three are now out of power positions. The third is still an issue that has not been forgotten. Thankfully citizens of Corfu and Pembroke have been coming to meetings now and are more involved than ever in the operation of the local government. Involvement is the only way to understand what is going on and it promotes official integrity. 

Personally I'm thankful that certain individuals in the NYS Troopers and State Comptrollers office took this matter seriously and investigated. I also appreciate the efforts of Donald O'Geen and Mark Boylan. The efforts of The Batavian and YNN to report the story with integrity have also helped the community deal with a difficult situation and get some restitution…thank you! I'd also express a deep appreciation to the village clerks (Sandy, Denise and Pam) for all they did and put up with during the last couple of years. Their professionalism outlasted all the plots, traps, public/private humiliations and schemes intended to remove them from positions they excel at.

Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Prosecutor: Guilty plea by former clerk should end 'period of unrest' in Corfu

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu, crime
Brandi Watts

The way special prosecutor Donald O'Geen sees it, today should mark a new beginning for the residents of Corfu.

Brandi Watts, the former court clerk at the center of a 20-month-long controversy over missing court funds that has spilled into village politics, issued a check to the village today for $10,128.

She also entered a guilty plea in County Court to one count of tampering with government records, a Class D felony.

If Watts obeys court orders and stays out of trouble for the next 12 months, she can avoid any jail time. She would also be given a chance at a conditional discharge of all 61 counts against her. If she violates her interim probation, she could be facing up to seven years in prison.

The full payment of restitution was "absolutely non-negotiable," O'Geen said. "That was a big component of the plea arrangement."

The guilty plea and restitution puts the cap on a case that O'Geen said dragged on too long because the slow pace of the state's Judicial Conduct Commission.

The commission was called upon more than 18 months ago to review the case of missing funds in the village court following a comptroller's audit that found books had been cooked and money had disappeared.

Watts was the clerk at the time and her father, Robert Alexander, was the village justice.

O'Geen has heard, but hasn't seen (nor is it listed on the commission's Web site) that the commission finally issued a report on its finding within the past few days.

The slow pace of the commission delayed the investigation by O'Geen and state police, which delayed prosecution of Watts.

O'Geen, who is the district attorney in Wyoming County, was appointed special prosecutor because local prosecutors have handled cases -- and were handling cases at the time the investigation started -- in Alexander's courtrooms (he was also a justice in the Town of Pembroke). He did not seek reelection in Corfu last year.

Alexander, who is charged with two counts of coercion and one count of official miscondut, did not appear in court today. He's scheduled to appear Nov. 18. He did officially resign today from the Town of Pembroke justice position, after previously having his cases reassigned and being suspended by the state.

"To me, here's the guy who kind of ran the show, so to be forced out (of office) before he wanted to be is a big deal from a public perception standpoint," O'Geen said. 

Asked if the $10,128 in restitution covers the full amount of money Watts stole, O'Geen indicted it's as close as the government will ever get to the correct amount, if the actual amount stolen is different at all.

"There are records that indicate there could be more money missing, or there could be documents filed just to make it look like there was money collected but there is no money taken," O'Geen said. "The amount we settled on was what the comptroller came up with because that's what we knew we could prove. To be honest, we don't think there's much more missing."

After the comptroller's report about the missing funds was released in January 2012 and what followed was endless turmoil in the village, with then-trustee Ralph Peterson seemingly running interference with the board of trustees on behalf of his friend Robert Alexander.

After a new court clerk was appointed, Alexander asked her to audit the court's books, and when the clerk, Pam Yasses, said she found the same irregularities, Alexander allegedly harassed her (which is at least part of the reason he faces the criminal charges he does).

Peterson was elected mayor and throughout the first half of 2013, he's been accused by his fellow trustees of an endless string of problems for village employees, other trustees and former trustees.

The situation in Corfu has taken on a reputation throughout Genesee County as a soap opera. Readers have recently contacted The Batavian wanting to know when the next installment is going to run.

Two months ago, Peterson took medical leave, reportedly because of stress. He's scheduled to return to his mayoral duties Jan. 2, and since then, there've been no new controversies coming out of Corfu.

O'Geen said there's no reason now for the issue of missing court funds to hang over the village and interfere with village business.

"I think what this does for the people in the Village of Corfu is it puts behind them a period of unrest in the sense this whole thing, as of today, is over," O'Geen said. "This is the first day of the people of Corfu getting their village back and getting back to normal. It's the first day employees do not have to worry about retribution and can move on and get back to doing what they do best, which is provide services for the people of the Village of Corfu.

"If anything, this is kind of a lesson in civics, that people should be more involved, more aware of what's going on, that every vote counts, all of those cliches," O'Geen added. "I wish the Village of Corfu all the best and hope they move forward."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 11:24 am

Corfu residents and planning board members mull the future of the village

post by Howard B. Owens in corfu

What should Corfu become? That was the question hanging over a village planning board meeting Tuesday evening when an agenda item about rezoning evolved into a discussion about how to boost business and get more people to visit.

The conversation was partly spurred by resident Tsabelle Cyra raising concerns about Dollar General looking for a store location in the village.

"It's ugly," Cyra said. "Did you see the facade of this place. It's not only ugly outside, it's ugly inside. It would do nothing for the esthetics of this village. On weekends, it's just packed with kids and indigent people. Is that what we want image-wise for Corfu?"

Trustee Art Ianni quickly turned the discussion to what it would take to get people to stop in Corfu.

He said one problem in Corfu is the village itself is ugly.

"I'm going to raise my hand and say it's ugly," Ianni said. "Yes, it's ugly."

He had a copy of a 2007 study that offered suggestions for improving the esthetics of Corfu, such as applying design standards, putting in sidewalks, street lighting, landscaping and attractive crosswalks, among other things.

"These are the recommendations of 2007 and nobody's moved on it," Ianni said. "Nobody's touched it and some of it is simple."

Several residents and board members agreed that what Corfu needs is a small grocery store.

"Right now, you have to go 26 miles round trip to get groceries," Dave Stehlar said.

Stehlar thinks a five-acre parcel on the east side of the village would be a good location for a new grocery store and bring people into the village and down Main Street.

The problem is, the owner wants top dollar and won't sell the property in divided parcels.

Cyra said when she worked in one of the state prisons years ago, all of the employees would drive out of their way to come to Corfu because they could get great meat at the grocery store. That kind of quality grocery store is needed again, she said.

The other problem, David Saleh said, based on his discussions with previous grocery store owners, is that the stores always did great in the summer, but business would come to a crawl in the winter. That makes it very hard to stay profitable, Saleh said.

Stehlar pointed out that there are about 10,000 people living in a 10-square mile area around Corfu. Those are a lot of potential customers for Corfu businesses if more of them could be enticed into the village.

One of the problems Corfu faces, Cyra noted, is the perception that it's a speed trap, so people avoid the village.

"Would you go on the record with that?" Ianni asked.

Ianni also raised the idea of exploring historical designation opportunities and maybe the village should bring in somebody to talk with them about that process.

Stehlar pointed out that the now vacant Union Hotel has a lot of redevelopment potential.

Ianni mentioned an article he'd seen about all the success with old building redevelopment in Perry, so maybe Rick Hauser should be asked to share his knowledge on the subject.

Whatever the village residents want to do, Saleh noted, it's going to take more support than the handful of people at Tuesday's planning board meeting.

"All of these things take a commitment of time and effort," Saleh said.

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