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Handling of hit-run case becomes an issue in primary election for district attorney

Though three high profile attorneys are vying for district attorney in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, the family of an Evans handyman now occupies the political spotlight.

A new ad featuring Maria Wrafter – sister of the man killed in a controversial Evans hit-and-run in December 2013 – accuses two Democratic contenders of “politicizing” her brother’s death while praising the role of acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr.

Wrafter appears in a video airing on television and indicates she feels “compelled to tell you our story.” She accuses John J. Flynn Jr. and Mark A. Sacha of exploiting her brother’s death for political purposes.

“Michael Flaherty is using the full force of the District Attorney’s Office to seek long overdue justice for him,” she says.

The Moss death has figured prominently in the raucous primary campaign for district attorney ever since Flaherty declared off limits discussion of any role he played in 2014 to reverse the grand jury indictment of Evans bar owner Gabriele P. Ballowe for Moss’s death.

The acting district attorney, running in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, will not acknowledge his two opponents’ claims that he asked the grand jury to rescind its previous indictment against Ballowe.

Flaherty refuses to “politicize” the case, he said on several occasions, for the sake of the Moss family.

But the new ad now brings the case front and center, and his opponents claim Flaherty has violated his own rule.

“Just recently at the debate, he said he was not going to politicize the case,” Flynn said of Flaherty. “Obviously, we now have a political ad.”

Sacha echoed that argument late Wednesday.

“I had nothing to do with how his case was handled and Mike Flaherty had everything to do with it,” he said, of the Moss case. “Now it appears they are the ones who are politicizing this by creating the video for this ad.”

Flaherty would not discuss his opponents’ reaction, but spokeswoman Maggie McKeon said the campaign felt it should respond to the debate.

“Our opponents have exploited a family’s tragedy as the cornerstone of their campaigns because they have little to offer other than negative attacks and mudslinging,” said McKeon. “After months of attacks, the family wanted to set the record straight.”

Meanwhile, Wrafter spoke to The Buffalo News on Wednesday about her need to speak up.

“I wanted to say this because they are painting a very different picture of how the Moss family feels and I don’t like it,” Wrafter said, adding she was “furious” that the death of her brother dominated a recent debate among the three candidates.

She is especially frustrated, Moss’ sister said, because the case is progressing and its inclusion in political debate makes the situation “more confusing.”

“Right now, all I know is that this woman has four charges against her,” she added, of Flaherty’s handling of the case against Ballowe. “In March, I had two years of failure.”

Wrafter said she feels too much is made of Flaherty’s refusal to discuss the situation – Flaherty has, in the past, cited grand jury secrecy rules. She maintains that any role Flaherty may have assumed with the grand jury stemmed from the direction of then-District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.

“He was not the DA and how that case was handled was not his call,” she said. “I hold Sedita responsible.”

Throughout the campaign, Flynn and Sacha have accused Flaherty – second in command of the District Attorney’s Office at the time – of returning to the grand jury to seek reversal of the already returned indictment, upon Sedita’s orders.

The case has figured in the contest dating to June 2014, when The News reported the grand jury agreed to “no bill” the case – meaning that unless Evans police come up with new evidence, no criminal charges would be filed against Ballowe.

“The grand jury wanted to indict. The DA said no,” said one of the sources who told The News about the events in the grand jury.

But almost immediately after taking over as acting district attorney following Sedita’s election to State Supreme Court, Flaherty announced he would take a second look at the case, and later lodged vehicular manslaughter charges against Ballowe and perjury charges against her friend – Lynn Laettner.

The Moss family appeared with Flaherty at the time of the new charges to show their support.

But new discussions about the role of Sacha and Flynn are now entering the debate as Tuesday’s primary election draws near. Wrafter told The News Wednesday that both Flynn and Sacha spoke with her in meetings arranged by an intermediary.

She said she met on March 16 with Flynn, who suggested her family should call for a special prosecutor for the case and that he would support the effort. She said she appreciated his concern and weighed his offer.

“John wanted me to change course,” she said, but decided against his ideas because Evans police felt the case was progressing successfully.

“Things were moving, and how did I know he was even going to win,” she said. “I don’t really feel he had my family’s best interest in mind.”

She said she attended a meeting on May 27, 2015, in which Sacha was present, though she did not ask to meet with him.

“I do not want him speaking for our family and asked him specifically not to,” she said.

Sacha said Wednesday he was requested to consult with the Moss family through the same intermediary when the case remained in limbo, and is now “flabbergasted” to see them involved in the politics of the race.

Sacha added that when he was asked to discuss the case, he had no intention of running for office.

“Anything I have done was in an effort to have the right things happen in the Barry Moss case,” he said. “I think it’s reprehensible that the guy who caused the problem is now trying to benefit from it.”

Flynn said he was asked to meet with Wrafter to talk about the case but that he never discussed the possibility of a special prosecutor.

“I never alluded to anything about a special prosecutor,” he said. “It’s now five days before election and I obviously haven’t done it.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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