A judge on Wednesday dismissed three counts of a 28-count indictment against longtime Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards.
State prosecutors have accused Richards of engaging in practices as far back as 2001 to steal town goods and resources, including using town employees to do work for his family-owned company.
Assistant State Attorney General Diane LaVallee told State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns that prosecutors consented to the dismissal of the three charges because the statute of limitations for the charges had expired.
Rodney O. Personius, Richards’ attorney, said one of the dismissed charges involved the alleged felony theft of a shotgun from the town Police Department in 2002, putting it beyond the five-year statute of limitations for felonies.
The two other charges – theft of town services and official misconduct – were misdemeanor counts stemming from the alleged use of town workers in 2002 to reconnect a storm water line to a rental property that Richards owned. Both charges were beyond the two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors, Personius said.
Richards, 60, who was first elected town supervisor in November 1995, was charged in October with one count of defrauding the government, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny and one count of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property – all felonies – as well as 11 misdemeanor counts of petit larceny and 13 misdemeanor counts of official misconduct.
Richards, who appeared in court, now faces 25 counts. The trial has been scheduled for March 24 before Burns in Niagara County.
During Wednesday’s hearing in Buffalo, the judge heard arguments on defense motions to dismiss the remaining charges.
Personius said three of the petit larceny charges – involving paint, a sign and sign posts from the town – were beyond the two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanors.
So are the allegations Richards used town workers and equipment to erect a sign at Richards Motor Service, a Town of Niagara auto repair business operated by Richards and his family, Personius said.
LaVallee said that since the crimes were committed in Richards’ capacity as town supervisor, the law provides for a five-year statute of limitations. She told the judge that if Richards hadn’t been supervisor, he wouldn’t have been able to obtain the items and direct town workers to install them at his business.
Personius questioned whether his client’s alleged misconduct was related to the exercise of his public duty – a requirement for extending the statute of limitations for misdemeanors.
He also moved to dismiss the official misconduct charges, contending the allegations do not meet the law’s requirement that the misconduct involve the unauthorized exercise of an official function.
LaVallee repeated her contention that the misconduct stems from Richards’ position as supervisor, arguing that if he hadn’t been supervisor, he could not have committed the crime.
The judge asked Personius whether the supervisor telling town workers to do work at his business was not an unauthorized exercise of an official function. The defense attorney said it depended on the context.
LaVallee noted that Richards acknowledged in an FBI interview that he used town workers and goods because others had done it before he took office but that he knew it was wrong and unauthorized.
Personius also moved to dismiss the charge of defrauding the government, which alleges that Richards misused town property and resources from 2001 to 2012. He said that with the dismissal of the shotgun charge, the value of the remaining resources does not meet the law’s requirement that they total $1,000 or more. But LaVallee said that even without the shotgun, the value of the goods and services exceeds $1,400.
Personius cited another grounds for dismissing the defrauding charge, saying the alleged incidents used to support the charge do not constitute a scheme or pattern of conduct because of large time gaps of five, three and two years between when they occurred. He also moved to dismiss the grand larceny charges on the same grounds.
LaVallee said the incidents showed that Richards used his position as supervisor to use town workers for his business.
The judge reserved decision on the motions. He also set a hearing for Feb. 26 on whether Richards’ statements to the FBI were voluntarily given and can be used at trial.