HALFMOON Already under federal scrutiny for alleged influence peddling, embattled Halfmoon Supervisor Melinda “Mindy” Wormuth allegedly made a frank admission to investigators last summer: She cashed thousands of dollars in checks for her campaign fund without ever accounting for the money.
Prosecutors say the 46-year-old three-term Republican told FBI agents she personally cashed four checks worth $4,000 that were issued to her campaign between April 22 and July 23 so there would be no record of the money in her disclosures. She acknowledged having second thoughts about taking the money, but also indicated she was bitter over losing the GOP endorsement, which was handed to former Town Justice Kevin Tollison on April 9.
“[Wormuth] also told the FBI that ‘I never did anything like this before,’ ” stated Mitchell Paurowski, an investigator with the state Attorney General’s Office, in a felony complaint. “However, bank records and campaign records established that once in 2009 and twice in 2010, the defendant also cashed campaign checks and failed to report the donations to the state Board of Elections.”
In total, the state complaint charges Wormuth with two felony counts of grand larceny and one count of filing a false instrument for allegedly misusing $6,250 in contributions. The charges followed a two-count felony indictment unsealed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Albany, accusing Wormuth of accepting $7,000 in cash from promoters so that she would use her influence to advocate for the legalization of mixed martial arts competitions in New York.
In the federal case, Wormuth is accused of using town letterhead to contact state legislators in support of mixed martial arts and then receiving three separate payments that were characterized as consultant fees. When confronted by federal investigators, Wormuth allegedly told them she had consulted with a Saratoga County town justice — identified as “K.T.” in the indictment — to obtain approval for her actions before taking the payments.
Wormuth pleaded not guilty to the felony charges of extortion and making a false statement during her afternoon arraignment. Under the extortion charge alone, she faces up to 20 years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines.
Federal prosecutors asked that Wormuth, who is on a 30-day leave of absence from her town post, be required to seek substance abuse therapy and counseling. But after a brief argument from defense attorney James Knox, U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Treece agreed to release her on her own recognizance.
Wormuth was then taken into custody by state investigators, who walked her into Waterford Town Court in handcuffs. She pleaded not guilty to the state’s complaint and was released on her own recognizance.
E. Stewart Jones, who is also representing Wormuth, urged the public to keep an open mind about his client. He said the charges don’t represent “a complete fair and balanced picture of these events” and that there’s another perspective of what transpired.
“That will become compellingly clear as we go forward,” he said after the arraignments.
Wormuth, who is paid $48,000 as the town’s top executive and an additional $17,000 for her spot on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, has faced a growing chorus of criticism for her business dealings in recent years. In specific, she’s come under fire for her close ties to local developers that have contributed handsomely to her campaign committee.
In her run for a third term in 2011, Wormuth was forced to return $4,000 to prominent developer Bruce Tanski after his contributions exceeded the state’s campaign finance limit. Last year, Wormuth stepped down from the county’s Public Works Committee amid controversy over a land deal in which she sold two properties for well above their assessed value to a local developer whose company expressed interest in buying the county landfill.
In the federal case, Wormuth is accused of meeting with an MMA promoter April 25 and receiving a payment of $2,500 in cash in return for using her official position to advocate for legalization of the sport. This would constitute a form of extortion under federal law. The meeting occurred as MMA proponents flooded the state capital lobbying for legalization and just two days after several prominent Albany County politicians appeared at an exhibition hosted by Ultimate Fighting Championship organizers in downtown Albany.
A week after the event, Wormuth allegedly authored letters to Assemblyman James Tedisco and state Sen. Kathy Marchione, urging them to support the MMA legalization effort.
“Like many other industries, this is another example of my constituents leaving the local community to spend their money on entertainment and tourism in neighboring states,” reads the letter sent to Marchione’s office dated May 2.
Federal investigators claim Wormuth received a cash payment of $3,000 from another promoter in June that was billed as a consultant fee. And in July, she told the promoter she would submit a resolution to the Board of Supervisors supporting professional MMA in New York.
Wormuth allegedly received $2,000 in cash Aug. 7, around the same time federal investigators started questioning her about the payments. Wormuth claimed she had been approved to receive them from the town justice, when in fact she had consulted a different attorney who advised her she couldn’t use her office in exchange for payments, the indictment states.