Former Halfmoon supervisor Melinda Wormuth pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Albany on Monday to extortion and false statement charges.
Wormuth, 48, is expected to receive a sentence as long as 12 months and a day in jail or as little as no time. Presiding Judge Gary L. Sharpe is to determine the final term at her Dec. 10 sentencing.
Wormuth appeared in court Monday with her attorney E. Stewart Jones, giving brief answers to a series of questions from Sharpe about her understanding of what was happening.
Wormuth and her attorney left the courthouse without giving a statement to local media.
In a statement issued later, U.S. Attorney Richard Hartunian called Wormuth’s actions as supervisor unacceptable.
“The defendant accepted money for taking official actions, and then lied to federal agents by claiming she had obtained prior approval for her corrupt conduct,” Hartunian said.”This is yet another instance of an elected official who put her own interest ahead of the public’s. That is unacceptable at any level of government, whether in our state Capitol or in the counties and towns within the Northern District of New York.”
The three-term Halfmoon supervisor resigned her position in November 2013, just before her term was to end. She did not seek re-election that year after losing the Republican endorsement. She was originally charged in late 2013.
Still pending is a state case against Wormuth. She faces two felony counts of grand larceny and a false instrument charge there, accused of misusing $6,250 in contributions to her campaign.
Wormuth’s federal plea agreement includes a provision that she will plead guilty to a state charge of fourth-degree grand larceny within 15 days of her federal plea. No specific date had been set for that as of Monday afternoon. The state case is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office. An official there declined to comment.
Wormuth was charged in both cases after an undercover operation determined that she had accepted the money in exchange for writing letters in support of mixed martial arts in her official capacity.
Between April and August 2013, she sent the letters on official town letterhead to several state legislators in favor of legalizing MMA in New York. In exchange, she received $5,500 in what were termed “consulting fees,” but were actually disguised illegal payments, according to her plea agreement.
The undercover operation ended in August 2013 when agents confronted Wormuth in a Colonie motel room. There she told agents that she had obtained prior approval for her actions from a former town justice. But she had never consulted that person and her statement was false, she admitted in court.
Trial in the case had been postponed repeatedly. Prior to Monday’s plea, it had been set to begin next month.
Wormuth will remain free until sentencing. Federal prosecutors asked Sharpe to prohibit Wormuth from consuming any alcohol. A previous ruling prohibited excessive alcohol use.
But Sharpe sided with Wormuth’s attorney Jones, who opposed the prosecution’s motion. Jones noted that alcohol had nothing to do with the charges in the case.
The investigation was conducted by the Federal-State Anti-Corruption Task Force, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, state Attorney General’s Office and state Comptroller’s Office, the Internal Revenue Service and others.
Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County