Richards Slapped with 28-Count Indictment; Did Supervisor Turn Down Plea Offer?
Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards, 60, was arraigned last Friday on a 28-count indictment, before State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.
Richards pleaded not guilty to all counts: four felonies and 24 misdemeanors. He was released on his own recognizance.
Richards faces a maximum of two and 1/3 to seven years in state prison if convicted of the highest charges in the indictment. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4 with the trial set for April 14.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli accused Richards of engaging in a 12-year-long scheme, dating back to 2001, to steal goods and town resources, and using town employees to deliver and pick up items for his family-owned company, Richards Automotive, on Sweet Home Road, Town of Niagara.
“No public official is above the law, least of all one who used a town’s property and employees to further his own interests,” said Schneiderman in a statement.
The indictment accuses Richards of stealing a sign, a sign post, paint, gravel, grease and waste line cleaner from the Town of Niagara, and illegally possessing a Honda generator and stealing a shotgun that belonged to the Town of Niagara Police Department.
Richards is alleged to have submitted a bill from a vendor for goods and services received for the defendant's personal benefit, without authorization that was paid by the town.
Richards is also alleged to have used Town of Niagara employees on town time with town equipment, to pick up the stolen sign and signpost and deliver it to his business, load and deliver the stolen gravel, clean a drain and waste lines with the stolen drain cleaner, pick up a catch basin in Lancaster and deliver it to his automotive business, pick up a drill and bring it to a repair shop in Buffalo then retrieve the drill and deliver it to his business, and, using labor and equipment owned by the Town of Niagara to reconnect a storm water line on a rental property owned by Richards after the New York State DOT disconnected the line during a reconstruction project.
“This official treated the Town of Niagara like a private hardware store,” DiNapoli said. "He had complete and utter disregard for taxpayer property and must be held accountable for this wrongdoing.”
Richards, who has been town supervisor for 18 years, is represented by attorney Rodney Personius who said some of the charges are barred by statute of limitations.
Assistant Attorney General Paul McCarthy, of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, is prosecuting the case.
In court for Richards’ arraignment, McCarthy told Judge Kloch, "This case is ready for trial. The investigation is complete."
The case was investigated by the Joint Task Force on Public Integrity, which is a cooperative effort between the state attorney general, the state comptroller and the FBI.
Twenty town employees, including Richards, were called to testify during the two-week grand jury investigation that led up to the indictment.
Richards told the Reporter this summer that he would not accept a plea deal that required him to confess to something he did not do.
Sources claim that Richards was offered a plea deal prior to his indictment that would have required him to resign from office and pay a $2,500 fine in return for dropping all criminal charges, which Richards declined.
When asked by the Reporter, Richards refused to comment.
Calls to his lawyer were not returned.
Last week, after learning he was indicted, Richards said, “I’m in a better mood. Now everything comes out, that it’s a conspiracy. At this point, it’s better for me because of discovery. Now it’s my turn. From this day forward, it’s better for me.”
Richards, who has three years left in his current term, said he will not step down as supervisor. Richards makes $35,960 per year as supervisor.
Some members of the Niagara Town Board have discussed the possibility of trying to require Richards to step down as town supervisor.
“Read the state constitution,” Richards told board members at a meeting last week. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Town of Niagara Attorney Michael Risman told the Reporter he is researching whether Richards can remain in office, but declined to comment.
"It would be premature," he said, "to discuss it with you prior to my addressing the issue with the council at the meeting (this Thursday)."
McCarthy is prosecuting the case under the supervision of Public Integrity Bureau Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz, Chief William E. Schaeffer and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.
The Reporter previously published Google Earth photos of Richards’ business at 5000 Sweet Home Road, Town Of Niagara, which, according to Richards previous comments, show the alleged stolen gravel and catch basin now named in the indictment.
Richards claimed at that time he paid for these items and had receipts. Richards claimed that National Grid worked in the right-of-way and dug up gravel on the road next to his lot.
At the time, Richards told the Reporter of the various allegations he believed he would later be charged with, “I am innocent of all these allegations. And I will go to the death defending the Richards’ name. I have proof of everything. And I can tell you this, I will never say I did something I did not do. I’ll never retire under a cloud. I will defend my name - to the death. I would rather sit in prison an innocent man, than live free as a coward.”
The prosecutors were assisted by Investigations Bureau Investigator Denise Crawford, under the supervision of Supervising Investigator Richard Doyle, Deputy Chief Antoine Karam, and Chief Dominick Zarrella, Special Agents from the Public Corruption Squad of the Buffalo Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Comptroller’s Investigations Unit.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
OCT 08, 2013