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."