A Cheektowaga councilman has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for collecting more than $7,100 in excess unemployment benefits for the convenience store job he lost when the store closed.
Charles Markel, 50, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree offering a false instrument for filing and was sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang to a conditional discharge, according to Assistant District Attorney Gary M. Ertel.
Markel had paid full restitution of $7,136 before pleading guilty, Ertel said.
The conditional discharge means that if Markel stays out of trouble for one year, the charge will be dismissed. But if he gets in trouble, he may face up to one year in jail.
Ertel said that under the state public officers law, once an elected official enters a guilty plea, the office is considered vacant because it involves a violation of the oath of office.
Thomas J. Eoannou, Markel’s attorney, said it remains to be seen whether his client will keep his councilman job.
He said Markel started receiving jobless benefits after his father-in-law’s convenience store closed, but he was receiving more than he should have because the benefits were based on his store earnings and his $20,000-a-year job as a councilman.
When he noticed the discrepancy, he informed the unemployment office that he was still employed as a councilman, and he paid back the excess benefits, according to his attorney.
Markel took office in January 2008 after he was elected to his first four-year term. He was re-elected and was in his second four-year term at the time of his plea.
During his first term, he sponsored a resolution adopted by the Cheektowaga Town Board in October 2009 asking the State Legislature and Board of Regents to require the CPR and defibrillator training for teachers.
Markel’s son, Ryan, died in 2002 at age 11 after being found floating in a school pool during gym class. Since then, Markel and his wife, Sandy, started Ryan’s Hope Foundation, through which they have trained thousands of people in CPR.
The couple used their training in 2007 to save their daughter when she collapsed at home. They performed CPR until rescue crews arrived and used an automated external defibrillator to deliver a shock to her heart.