After a long legal saga, calls to resign from the governor and other elected officials and a primary election loss, Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse pleaded guilty to wire fraud in federal court in Binghamton Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith and James Hendricks, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albany Field Office say Morse admitted that he and his campaign treasurer, Ralph Signoracci, solicited and received contributions to his political committee, Friends of Shawn Morse, and a political action committee.
The authorities say Signoracci then provided some of those funds to Morse, 52, for his personal use including an August 2015 contribution of $500 Morse used to pay a personal bill. In total, Morse obtained $12,250 in political contributions from at least 10 people to pay personal expenses at hotels, restaurants, and retailers, according the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI.
Authorities say Signoracci concealed the nature of the fraudulent expenditures by falsely reporting their purpose or by not reporting or disclosing them on campaign disclosure reports, as required.
Signoracci pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in March 2019.
“Our democracy depends on honesty by public officials," Jaquith said in a statement. "Stealing campaign funds frustrates the freedom of speech so important to the integrity of elections, undermines public faith in the process and outcome, and betrays the trust of donors. No one is above the law, and we will continue to hold accountable politicians who put personal enrichment above public good."
"Public trust must be something that is cherished by all who serve in positions of public office," Hendricks said in a statement. "Sadly, Mr. Morse abused his position for personal gain. Today’s plea announcement should send a clear signal that the FBI will vigorously investigate any public official who attempts to use their position to enrich themselves.”
Morse, a Democrat, faces up to 20 years in prison, a term of post-release supervision of up to 3 years, and a fine of up to $250,000. His sentencing is set for December 10. Morse and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.
WNYT reports as of now, Morse is not resigning ahead of December's sentencing.
He lost June's decisive Democratic primary to former New York State Troop Commander Bill Keeler. Keeler has called for Morse to resign.
“The last couple of years have been an embarrassment for people in Cohoes,” Keeler said Tuesday afternoon.” It’s embarrassment of the mayor’s own doing, and by pleading guilty, he’s admitted as such. Now we just need to move forward. With respect to the people of Cohoes, 70 percent of the folks who voted in the Democratic primary voted against this mayor.”
Common councilors who spoke with WAMC say Council President Christopher Briggs will become acting mayor until Keeler takes office in January. Councilor Steve Napier ran in the four-way mayoral primary against Morse.
“I thought that the mayor would have resigned a very long time ago, so I’m kind of at a loss when it comes to that,” he said.
Common Councilor Randy Koniowka flirted with his own mayoral campaign after the first allegations of domestic abuse on Morse’s part emerged.
“I think this closes a very tumultuous chapter for not only Shawn, but really the entire city,” Koniowka said. “Shawn made the best decision for himself, for his family, and now I think it’s just time we all move forward, closing up the end of the year, heading into a new year, a new mayor, a new administration – moving on, as they say.”
The Cohoes Common Council has scheduled an emergency meeting for 7 p.m. Tuesday.