Cheektowaga Council Member Charles Markel’s name was scrubbed from the town’s website Thursday after town officials conceded that he gave up his seat when he pleaded guilty to improperly collecting unemployment benefits.
Town Attorney Kevin G. Schenk said the town notified Markel on Thursday that he did vacate office when he pleaded guilty last week to a misdemeanor charge.
Town officials spent several days researching whether Markel’s guilty plea would force him out before agreeing with Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III that his ouster from office was automatic based on his conviction.
“We never really disagreed with the DA’s Office, but we wanted to make sure,” Schenk said.
Schenk said Markel accepted the decision and does not plan to attend Monday’s Town Board meeting. The vacant seat will be placed on the ballot in November.
Markel last Friday pleaded guilty to second-degree offering a false instrument for filing for falsely certifying that he was completely unemployed at the same time he was receiving a salary as town councilman, according to the District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors said he paid back the $7,136 he improperly received in unemployment benefits as restitution.
He was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge. Markel’s attorney, Thomas J. Eoannou, has previously said Markel informed the unemployment office that he was employed as a councilman after noticing the discrepancy.
While a felony plea automatically forces an elected official from office, Schenk said the law makes a distinction for misdemeanors based on whether the offense violates the official’s oath of office.
“If there was any kind of intentional conduct indicative of a lack of moral integrity or knowing that you’re doing something that shouldn’t be done, that affects your oath of office,” Schenk said. “Because when you give an oath of office, you’re going to follow the law. You’re not going to do anything deceitful.”
A different type of misdemeanor conviction – such as driving while intoxicated or trespassing – would not require an elected official to leave office, Schenk said.
Town Supervisor Mary F. Holtz earlier this week told reporters that town policy did not require Markel to resign. Since then, Schenk said, he and an outside attorney determined that the type of charge Markel pleaded guilty to meant he had vacated his office.
A similar situation faced the City of Buffalo when then-Council Member Brian C. Davis pleaded guilty in 2009 to two misdemeanors for using campaign contributions for personal use and lying to the Board of Elections about it. Davis initially vowed not to resign despite a determination by the District Attorney’s Office that he had vacated his seat based on his plea. He later resigned.
Schenk said preliminary research showed Markel would not be barred from running from public office in the future.