Cheektowaga Town Council Member Charles Markel has to give up his seat for illegally collecting unemployment benefits, the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday.
Markel, who has served on the Town Council since 2008, pleaded guilty last week in State Supreme Court to second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a Class A misdemeanor. He earlier repaid $7,136 in benefits that he received.
“As a result of his plea to a crime involving moral turpitude, his position as councilman is automatically vacated by operation of law,” District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said in a press release.
He added that Markel, 50, was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge.
Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary F. Holtz, who has maintained that town policy doesn’t require Markel to leave his position, said Wednesday night that the town’s outside legal firm was studying the situation and would deliver a final opinion today.
“It’s not a good situation for the town and it’s not a good situation for Charlie,” she said, “but I don’t think we have a ton of leeway. The laws are the laws. We all take an oath of office and we have to follow the law.”
Assistant District Attorney Gary M. Ertel, who prosecuted the case, said that once an elected official enters a guilty plea the office is considered vacant, according to the state public officers law, because it involves a violation of the oath of office.
Markel filed for unemployment in 2011 after the closing of his father-in-law’s convenience store, where he worked.
Markel’s attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, said that Markel notified the unemployment office of a discrepancy and repaid the excess benefits after he noticed that he was receiving larger payments than he should have been entitled to, because of his salary as a councilman.
Markel and his wife created the Ryan’s Hope Foundation after their 11-year-old son, Ryan, drowned during a Depew Middle School swimming class in 2002. The foundation has taught thousands of people how to perform CPR and use defibrillators.