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Felony plea may be on tap for Lockport water chief

LOCKPORT – Dale W. Lawson Jr., the chief of the City of Lockport water distribution system, may plead guilty to a felony after allegedly pouring gasoline on his back porch and lighting it during an argument with his wife on April 18.

Monday in City Court, defense attorney Michael H. White asked for Lawson to be screened for participation in either mental health court or the judicial diversion program of court-supervised drug treatment. Entry to either program requires a guilty plea to a felony.

Assistant District Attorney Heather A. Sloma said the District Attorney’s Office has so far not offered Lawson a plea. In either program, the defendant’s charge is reduced to a misdemeanor, or in rare cases it is dismissed, after successful treatment. But a failure in treatment means an almost-certain sentence in state prison.

Lawson, who has not yet had a felony hearing, was ordered to return to City Court next Monday, although any plea apparently would have to be entered in Niagara County Court.

City police charged Lawson, 53, with second-degree arson, a Class B felony, along with fourth-degree criminal mischief and third-degree menacing. He allegedly set a small fire on the porch of his Grosvenor Street home. Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey on Wednesday placed Lawson on paid administrative leave for 30 days. He is free on $10,000 bail.