By Rick Pfeiffer firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — A State Supreme Court Justice who openly questioned some of the charges in the 28-count public corruption indictment against Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven Richards has now stepped down from the case.
Justice Richard Kloch Sr. recused himself and has been replaced by Buffalo-based State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns. The reasons for the recusal were not immediately known.
Attorneys for Richards declined to comment on the change in judges.
A spokesperson for New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman did not respond to phone calls inquiring about the change. A source close to the case suggested that the attorney general’s office may have sought Kloch’s removal.
The 18-year town supervisor entered a plea of not guilty, during an arraignment before Kloch in October, to the indictment which contains four felony counts and 24 misdemeanor charges. They include one count of defrauding the government, two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, one count of fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, 11 counts of petit larceny and 13 counts of official misconduct.
The indictment accuses Richards of engaging in an ongoing scheme to steal town property and use town employees and equipment for his own personal gain.
At the arraignment, Richards lead defense attorney, Rodney Personius, launched an attack on the case brought by Schneiderman and State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Personius told Kloch there were multiple defects in the indictment.
The former federal prosecutor and veteran defense attorney said the indictment failed to indict where in New York state Richards’ crimes occurred and said some of his alleged crimes were not crimes at the time they may have happened.
Personius also said the statute of limitations may have run out on some of the alleged crimes.
Kloch, himself, noted that a felony theft charge in the indictment seemed to claim that the crime occurred from March of 2002 through March of 2012.
“Either that’s the longest theft in all of mankind or there’s more to be looked at here,” the judge said.
Kloch had scheduled a December hearing to listen to arguments on Personius’ claims, but that hearing was adjourned and no new date was set.
The indictment charges that, beginning in 2001, Richards engaged in a scheme to steal goods and use town resources for his own personal benefit. Among the claims are allegations that he directed town employees to pick up and deliver property to his personal business, clean a clogged drain at his personal business, and connect a storm drain, at a residential rental property he owns, to a state storm water line.
Investigators charge that all of that work involved the use of town equipment and employees who were working on town time.
Richards is also accused of stealing numerous industrial supplies belonging to the town, including paint, a drill, and drain cleaner. He is also accused of taking a shotgun from the town police department.
Kloch released Richards on his own recognizance. He faces a maximum of two and 1/3 to seven years in state prison if convicted of the highest charges in the indictment.