A dismissed Erie County assistant district attorney who claimed he was coerced into donating $1,000 to District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III’s campaign committee fundraiser in May has received refund.
Matthew A. Albert, who was fired earlier this summer in an unrelated matter, said that months before his termination he was coerced into donating to the fundraiser by a supervisor who has denied that ever happened.
“I left a phone message for Joseph Sedita threatening a lawsuit unless my money was refunded,” Albert said Friday. “Two days later on Thursday, I received a check for $1,000. In the message, I said the money was derived from me through coercion.”
The check was sent by Joseph Sedita, treasurer of Friends of Frank Sedita. The district attorney said he instructed his cousin, Joseph, to return the money to Albert.
Frank Sedita said that anyone else who believes they were pressured into contributing to his May 13 fundraiser at a downtown restaurant can also have their money back.
“My treasurer told me that Albert wanted his money back and I told him, ‘Give him his money back.’ In fact anyone who wants their money back can have their money back. I am not interested in accepting any contributions from someone who does not willingly and voluntarily wish to support me,” Sedita said.
Sedita had received more than $70,000 in political contributions from assistant district attorneys and confidential investigators on his staff. He reiterated Friday that he had nothing to do with the fundraising efforts or what occurred at an April staff meeting, ahead of the May gathering in Tempo on Delaware Avenue.
The refund, Albert said, represents an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the district attorney and he should “do the right thing” and return everyone’s money.
“How could it not be coercive when we had no idea what we were giving him money for? Was it for him to become DA? Well, it didn’t seem that way because he had changed the campaign committee name from ‘Sedita for DA’ to the more ambiguous ‘Friends of Frank Sedita.’ Was it for judge? We didn’t know. All we knew is that he wanted money and we were expected to give it to him. I think the whole thing is disgraceful,” Albert said.
Sedita, who denounced Albert’s allegations of coercion as false, said he is not running for judge and that there was nothing unusual in holding a fundraiser, adding that it was his first fundraiser in two years.
According to state Board of Elections records, Sedita’s campaign fund rose to $171,121, following the May event. Those figures were made public in a filing with the board a few weeks ago.
“You don’t fund-raise on the eve of your next election. You fund-raise well in advance of your next election,” said Sedita, who added that his top administrators did not nothing wrong in seeking contributions. “All of my political activity is completely lawful, ethical and transparent.”
In April, the Friends of Frank Sedita committee mailed postcards to the DA’s 90 assistant prosecutors, 15 investigators and a handful of other staffers, inviting them to “a brief meeting regarding the status of the office” for 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning in the Armory Tavern on Connecticut Street.
Staffers were told by top officials in Sedita’s office that he needed more money to build up his campaign fund to ward off potential challengers, according to current and former assistant district attorneys, who told The News they thought the request for contributions was out of line.
They said because Sedita had just been re-elected to a second four-year term after running unopposed.
They also said donations in the past were often smaller, but that at this meeting and in the days and weeks surrounding it, supervisors suggested that contributions, based on salary levels, be in the range of $500 to $1,000.
Eighty-five of the assistant prosecutors and 14 of the investigators, who all serve at the pleasure of the district attorney, donated a total of $70,050, while local attorneys and law firms donated several thousand dollars more.
Sedita, in a report in last Sunday’s Buffalo News about staff donations, had described Albert as a disgruntled ex-employee. The DA fired Albert earlier this summer for having a relationship with an SPCA investigator in the Beth Hoskins animal cruelty case.
Sedita said he spoke with his staff to find out about the purpose of the April meeting and was told that its primary point was to quash a rumor that he was seeking a judgeship.
“I had nothing to do with the meeting. I talked to my staff, and they said the principal reason they had it was to dispel the rumor I was running for judge.”
Albert and others said that at the meeting, supervisors did not close the door on a judgeship for Sedita, pointing out that there are 3½ years before the next election for district attorney and anything could happen.