Mayor Warren’s campaign finance trial explained

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Mayor Lovely Warren’s trial on campaign finance charges starts Monday.

The first thing we’re going to learn is if the District Attorney’s key witness, who was the lawyer for the political action committees involved in the case, is going to be allowed to testify, or if it would violate attorney-client privilege. That’s the judge’s call.

Then by the afternoon, they will start picking a jury.

The mayor had a re-election committee called Friends of Lovely Warren. People and companies could donate a maximum of $8,557 dollars to her campaign.

In 2015, a political action committee (PAC) started Warren for a Stronger Rochester. Eventually, that name changed to PAC for a Stronger Community. The PAC could donate a maximum of $8,557 to the mayor’s campaign.

The allegation by the District Attorney’s Office is the donors who maxed out to the mayor’s campaign account donated thousands to the PAC, and the PAC spent money directly to the mayor’s campaign.

Mayor Warren is one of three people charged in the case.

The mayor would not take questions about this Friday, but her spokesman, Justin Roj, did.

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "You talk to the mayor on a daily basis."

Roj: "Sure."

Brean: "How is she feeling on the eve of her trial?"

Roj: "I think the mayor is focused as she always is on the well-being of the city. She’s confident in her innocence and that she’s done nothing wrong. She’s expressed that to the community before."

When the mayor was indicted, Brean asked District Attorney Sandra Doorley why the public should care about this.

Doorley: "These are laws on the books that allow and assure that people who run for political office follow the rules."

Brean: "Does this come down to cheating? is it just cheating?"

Doorley: "Well, Berkeley, let’s look at the first count in the indictment. We assert by this indictment that this is allegedly a scheme to defraud."

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Rochester’s Deputy Mayor James Smith will be in charge of operations on a daily basis and the mayor is a phone call or text away.

Roj: "The deputy mayor serves as the chief operating officer of the city so between the entire management team, they’re going to make sure the work of the city gets done and the residents are served."

Brean: "And if there’s an emergency, do you have a plan?"

Roj: "Well certainly, if there’s an emergency the mayor is accessible on the phone and if there’s a need for her to leave the court she’ll certainly address that and deal with anything that comes."

A month before the indictment, the mayor called the problem an accounting mistake and said the investigation was political, saying "Come January, I’ll be running for reelection and I believe this is a political witch hunt."

Brean spoke to New York City Lawyer Jerry Goldfeder, who has defended public officials accused of campaign finance crimes.

Brean: "In your experience are these difficult cases to prosecute and defend?"

Goldfeder: "It’s difficult to get a conviction because the prosecution needs to prove criminal intent and the laws relating to campaign finance are so porous, so elastic that I don’t want to say anything goes in New York but there is flexibility in the ways these laws are interpreted."