One of the leading candidates to fill a vacancy on the Buffalo Common Council has been arrested twice on burglary charges and spent nearly two years in state prison.
Anthony A. Verel, who was deemed a youthful offender for the earlier burglary, went to prison July 20, 1989, and was paroled May 31, 1991, according to state parole records.
He was also arrested on a second-degree burglary charge in June 1998 in Buffalo, according to The Buffalo News archives.
Verel, 42, emerged last week as one of the top three candidates looking to fill the South District seat vacated by Michael P. Kearns after he won a March 20 special election for the Assembly.
Verel, who goes by "A.J.," was 19 when he went to prison. He maintains he has no felony conviction on his record, which is true because he was granted youthful-offender status, and his case was sealed.
However, a search of the state Division of Parole's website twice last week turned up information on Verel. Also, a previous parole database obtained by The News includes information on his conviction.
As of Monday, Verel's information had been removed from the parole website.
The Dorrance Avenue resident, who would not talk about the specific circumstances that sent him to prison, said he believes the "youthful indiscretion" from his past does not and should not disqualify him from the job as a city lawmaker.
He also disputed the veracity of the records obtained by The News.
"I stated my innocence then, and I do now, to this particular allegation," he said of the earlier burglary charge.
Verel did not respond to subsequent requests via phone and email over five days to comment on the 1998 arrest after it was discovered. However, in an email to The News on Monday, Steven Doraski, Verel's attorney, denied his client's involvement.
"This information reported in this newspaper article that you have listed below is incorrect," Doraski wrote. "As you are aware, there are no court documents that indicate any involvement in this allegation regarding A.J. Verel."
Buffalo City Court has no public record of any disposition of the 1998 case.
According to Verel, in the earlier case he took what's known as an "Alford plea," in which a defendant pleads but does not admit guilt.
Verel entered Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome on July 20, 1989, after receiving a three-year sentence, though he ended up serving only about two years, according to parole records.
He had been granted youthful-offender status Sept. 12, 1988, according to a May 2007 letter from the Erie County Clerk's Office that he supplied to The News.
Verel was one of 11 people who submitted a resume to City Hall for the Council vacancy and one of six candidates who were interviewed by city lawmakers April 16.
After those interviews, Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said Verel was among the three top candidates to fill the vacant post.
The other two are Matthew Fisher, a former Kearns aide, and Bryan J. Bollman, a senior aide to Council President Richard A. Fontana of the Lovejoy District.
Questions arose last week about whether Bollman meets the residency requirements for the South District appointment after it came to light that he was registered to vote in Lovejoy as recently as March and had circulated election petitions last July that said he lived in Lovejoy.
Meanwhile, University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said Monday that another candidate has the support of four of the eight remaining Council members.
Linda M. Bain, a registered nurse and founder of the Pomona Block Club, has Russell's support, along with that of Fontana, Smith and Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, Russell said.
As of early last week, Fisher had the support of the other four Council members. It will take five votes to fill the vacancy.
Verel, who touts his accomplishments as a kickboxer, works as vice president for human resources management and consulting at Buffalo-based Strategic Management Associates, according to the resume he submitted to the Council.
He also lists one of his titles as chairman of the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame & Museum, which Verel asserts is an organization chartered through the state Education Department that is seeking a physical location. A spot for the center is being eyed in Niagara Falls, he said.
He has been active on the state level trying to get mixed martial arts events sanctioned in New York. He has met with state legislators about the issue.
Verel is a 1999 Medaille College graduate, according to the school's website. He also lists a master's degree in business administration from American IC University, an online program.
He said he is active in a number of business ventures, including a new company, Buffalo Energy Oil & Gas, which he said will be an equipment manufacturer.
It was unclear why the Division of Parole's website turned up information on Verel if his case was sealed.
After being notified last week that Verel's information was available publicly even though the case had been sealed, the Division of Parole would not discuss the matter or verify the information on Verel that had been previously available on its web site.
Still, Verel said his work over the last 20 years, not his prison time, should mean more.
"I don't think that that is something that defines a person," he said of the prison sentence.
Anyone appointed by the Council to fill the South District seat would serve only until Dec. 31. An election will be held in November for the final three years left in Kearns' term.