Richard L. Frey spent 10 years as mayor of Dunkirk and, like most politicians, relied on money from donors to stay in office.
Turns out Frey was dipping into his campaign coffers for other reasons, as well.
Frey, now 85, admitted using $54,361 in political contributions for his personal use as part of a plea agreement approved Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. He faces a recommended sentence of up to 14 months in prison.
Prosecutors say Frey orchestrated a scheme that targeted two of his donors - a hotel and food production company, both in Dunkirk - and their contributions to his campaign.
"They believed the contributions were being used for campaign purposes," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Fabian. "Instead, the defendant deposited some of the checks in his personal bank account and cashed others for his personal benefit."
Frey's defense lawyer tells a far different story.
She says her client, a Korean War veteran who fought at the battle of Heartbreak Ridge and now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, took the plea deal against her advice and only because his wife is ill and the cost of a trial was beyond their means.
"He entered a plea to spare his wife any further stress," said defense attorney Cheryl Meyers Buth.
The investigation into Frey began as a bribery probe, but Buth says the lack of any credible evidence forced the government to settle for a fraud prosecution involving campaign contributions.
"No taxpayer funds, and not a scintilla of evidence that he or anyone else in his administration did anything illegal while he was mayor," she said.
Frey served as mayor from January of 2002 until January of 2012, just two months after his re-election loss to A.J. Dolce.
His conviction is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General.