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Two Misconduct Charges Dismissed Against Richards

Richards says he will not take a plea in the corruption case against him.

Last week, in response to a motion by the defense, State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns dismissed two of the 25 remaining counts in the public corruption case against Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards.

The two official misconduct charges dismissed alleged that from March of 2002 until March of 2012, Richards had possession of a shotgun that belonged to the town police department and that, from October 2011 to March of 2012 he had a police department-owned generator at his home or auto repair business.

Assistant Atty. Gen. Diane LaValle objected to the ruling.

The recent dismissal follows the voluntary dismissal of three charges last month by the AG's office because they were beyond the statute of limitations.

This lowers the total charges against Richards to 23, down from the original 28, which arise out of an alleged 10 thefts of town goods and services over a 12-year period.

Richards entered a plea of "not guilty" during an arraignment before State Supreme Court Justice Richard Kloch Sr. in October. Kloch removed himself from the case earlier this year.

Among the remaining allegations are that Richards used town equipment and employees on town time to pick up and deliver property to his personal business, clean a clogged drain at his business, and connect a storm drain at residential property he owns.

Richards is also accused of stealing paint, drain cleaner and a drill, a sign post and a sign from the town, and using town workers and equipment to erect the sign at Richards Motor Service, a Town of Niagara auto repair business operated by Richards and his family.

While the indictment makes no mention of the total value of goods and services allegedly stolen by Richards, the count to which he is charged, Grand Larceny Fourth degree, carries a monetary threshold of $3,000 or less. Lavelle claims the total is more than $1,400.

Richards' attorney, Rodney Personius, questioned the charge that Richards had a "scheme to defraud" town taxpayers since the alleged incidents occurred sporadically in 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010 and 2012 with gaps of five, three and two years between them.

Sources claim Richards turned down a plea deal that would have required him to resign from office and pay a $2,500 fine in return for dropping criminal charge.

Richards faces a maximum of two and 1/3 to seven years in state prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

"This official treated the Town of Niagara like a private hardware store," said State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli whose office helped investigate the case. "He had complete and utter disregard for taxpayer property and must be held accountable for this wrongdoing."

"I am innocent of all these allegations," Richards told the Reporter. "And I will go to the death defending the Richards' name. I have proof of everything. 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. I expect this to go to trial."

"I'm not taking a plea," Richards said.



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

Mar 25, 2014