Sedita Should Give the Money Back
by Geoff Kelly - posted 10:14 am, August 8, 2013
You may have read a story we published three weeks ago about Erie County DA Frank Sedita III, “Sedita’s Golden Fleece,” about the DA shaking down his employees at a May fundraiser. Or, if you like your news a little on the stale side, you may have read about it in this story in last Sunday’s Buffalo News, and again in an editorial yesterday.
(Credit to Lou Michel, who wrote the Sunday story: He reported it much better than we did, got people to go on the record, cornered Sedita nicely, etc. Nice work, Lou. To the News editors: Still, it wouldn’t kill you to credit someone else when they publish a story first. You’ve done it before and no ships sank. We try to do it every time.)
There’s nothing unusual about elected officials expecting donations from their employees in exchange for jobs and promotions. (See today’s story about hiring practices in City Hall.) But it’s not clear what Sedita’s employees were being asked to support. Were they paying to retain their positions or to advance, or were the bankrolling Sedita’s pursuit of what every one seems to know is his next step, a judgeship? If it’s the latter, that meets the layman’s definition of fraud. Former ADA Matthew Albert, who was fired earlier this summer for an unrelated reason, gave $1,000 at that May fundraiser, believing it was the price of job security. He says that he assumed, as most in the office assumed, that Sedita wasn’t running again for DA in 2016. But he grumbled and gave anyway. Now he has asked Sedita’s campaign to return his donation. He hasn’t heard back.
Sedita, who sits on the governor’s anti-corruption panel, has said in the past that his office doesn’t have the resources to pursue election law fraud, which he says is difficult to prove and results in little in the way of punishment for the perpetrators. (And he doesn’t pursue them, for the most part.) That’s an argument both for Cuomo’s assembling the commission and inviting underfunded DAs to sit on it. But the governor should consider whether to stand by his choice of Sedita.
And, if between now and 2016, Sedita decides to run for an open seat on the bench, or even if he should be appointed to a judgeship, he should return the money his employees gave his campaign committee at that fundraiser on the assumption that it is what state records say it is: a committee to elect Sedita Erie County DA.