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Richards to Stay on Job, Fight Charges

Steve Richards was offered a plea bargain: Pay $2,500 in restitution, resign from office, quietly retire. Two days of headlines. No prison time. Richards declined.
Assistant Attorney General Paul McCarthy, will prosecute Richards.

Despite the fact that he is under indictment, Steven C. Richards, 60, will continue to serve as supervisor for the Town of Niagara.

Richards is now in his 18th year on the job.

In a 28-count indictment, handed down earlier this month, the New York State Attorney General alleges that Richards stole, in what appears to be 10 separate incidents, goods and services from the Town of Niagara and used these for his business, Richards Motor Services, on Sweet Home Rd., and a rental property he owned in the Town of Niagara.

Despite the common misperception that an indictment is proof of a crime, it is not. It is the instituting of a criminal proceeding.

"You can indict a ham sandwich," Richards said, when he learned an indictment was forthcoming. "That’s the easy part. Now let due process take over."

The Niagara Falls Reporter also confirmed from several sources that Richards was offered a plea bargain prior to his indictment where he would have been permitted to pay $2,500 as restitution, admit to minor wrongdoing, face no prison time, and resign from public office.

Richards declined.

Richards told the Reporter, "I’d rather sit in prison an innocent man than be a coward and be bullied. I’m not going to let anyone bully me."

His lawyer, Rodney Personius, said of Richards, “He is resolute, that’s the way he is. He is prepared to defend himself.”

While the indictment makes no specific mention of the total value of goods and services allegedly stolen by Richards, the Reporter has learned that the offer of a $2,500 plea settlement signaled the government believes the total, combined value of everything Richards is alleged to have stolen is in the $2,500 range.

This is confirmed by the charge which combines all of Richards’ alleged thefts together - which is Grand Larceny in the Fourth degree - an E felony -and which carries a monetary threshold of $3,000 or less.

Richards told the Reporter he has used much of his life savings and pledged his retirement account to pay for his upcoming trial.

Subsequent to his indictment, Richards appeared before State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., on Oct. 4, pleaded not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

If convicted, Richards faces a possible prison sentence.

According to a published sentencing chart for New York State, an E felony, non violent, non drug, first time offender might expect a sentence of one to three years.

At least one of the 28 counts however is not tied to the dollar value of the alleged thefts, but to the fact that Richards is an elected official, which puts the alleged events under the umbrella of public corruption. He is charged with Defrauding the Government, under Penal Law ยง 195.20, an E Felony.

The prosecutor assigned to the case is Assistant Attorney General Paul McCarthy, of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. McCarthy is well known among defense attorneys queried by the Reporter. He was repeatedly described as one of the department’s premier prosecutors.

When asked by media if the state has a strong case, McCarthy said, “A grand jury returned an indictment and it will be up to a jury to make a determination.”

Richards’ defense attorney, Personius, was formerly an assistant United States Attorney for the Western District of New York, who prosecuted criminal and civil cases in the mid 1980’s, before returning to private practice. He specializes in criminal defense and civil litigation.

"We are looking forward to vetting these allegations," Personius said. "We will address them in a proper legal forum. We’ll see how that turns out."

By November 27, discovery motions must be filed. On Dec. 4, oral arguments will be heard on motions. Personius is expected to make a motion to dismiss some or all of the charges. Some may be barred by statute of limitations. Trial is scheduled for April 14, 2014.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

OCT 15, 2013