LOCKPORT – Niagara County Legislator Jason A. Zona and one of his top supporters, Niagara Falls attorney Johnny G. Destino, were cleared Friday in an investigation over the circumstances surrounding the casting of an absentee ballot in the Sept. 10 Conservative Party primary.
The Niagara County Sheriff’s Office announced: “After a review of all information gathered, it was determined that no criminal wrongdoing occurred. The investigation has been closed.”
Sheriff James R. Voutour had told The Buffalo News earlier this week that the results of his staff’s probe had been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for a decision on whether to bring charges.
Zona issued a statement saying, “This is absolutely not a surprise at all. There was never a shred of evidence of anything other than campaigning that went on. In fact, to this day, not one official has stated to me what the complaint was or what violation or crime was committed. This was nothing more than Republican political hacks in desperation mode as they continue to dodge debating county issues with me.”
The case began two days after the primary, when Niagara Falls Republican Party Chairman Patricia J. Castillo issued a statement accusing Zona and Destino, both Democrats, of fraudulently obtaining an absentee ballot for a Town of Niagara voter.
At the time, Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty said the request for an investigation was sent to the media before it was sent to the Sheriff’s Office.
The voter, a registered Conservative, told The Buffalo News that she was asked to write in Zona’s name for the Conservative nomination for 5th District legislator.
Zona had obtained the right to a write-in primary to try to take the Conservative line away from his opponent, former Legislator Giulio G. Colangelo, a member of the Independence Party who also has been endorsed by the Republicans and the Conservatives.
The woman said that a man she thought was Destino brought her the ballot application, which said she needed an absentee ballot because of “temporary illness or physical disability.”
Destino denied ever going to the woman’s apartment.
The woman said Zona came later and helped her fill out the ballot for him.
However, she told The News that she didn’t really need an absentee ballot, so she went to her local polling place on Primary Day and voted for Colangelo. That legally invalidated the absentee vote she cast for Zona. Colangelo won the Conservative primary.
The GOP accusations against Zona and Destino came Sept. 12, the day after Erie County District Attorney decided not to prosecute County Legislature Clerk Mary Jo Tamburlin, a Republican, over Democratic accusations of filing fraudulent nominating petitions on Colangelo’s behalf.