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Former Dunkirk mayor gets home confinement for campaign theft

Richard L. Frey is not like most of the people who steal money and find themselves facing possible prison time.

Frey is a high-profile public figure – he served as mayor of Dunkirk for 10 years – and the money he stole came from his campaign treasury.

Frey is also 85 years old.

On a day when the former mayor could have gone to prison for what he did, he was instead sentenced Tuesday to six months of home confinement and two years of probation.

"He feels like he let the community down," said defense attorney Cheryl Meyers Buth. "He feels like he's publicly humiliated and ashamed."

As part of a plea deal reached earlier this year, Frey admitted using $54,361 in political contributions for his personal use. He faced a recommended sentence of up to 14 months in prison, but U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara chose instead to give him home confinement.

Prosecutors say Frey orchestrated a scheme that targeted two of his donors – a hotel and a food production company, both in Dunkirk – and their contributions to his campaign.

"We're talking about a sizable amount of money," Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward P. Sullivan said of the donors, both of whom had business before the city. "He knew they could be exploited and he did exploit them."

In court papers, Sullivan and Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Fabian said Frey was a frequent gambler who lost more than $23,000 while spending more than $255,000 at a local casino over a seven-year period ending in 2014.

Buth painted a far different profile of her client.

She said Frey should be remembered first and foremost as a Korean War veteran who fought at the battle of Heartbreak Ridge, was wounded and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She says he took the plea deal against her advice and only because his wife is ill and the cost of a trial was beyond their means.

Former Dunkirk mayor pleads guilty to siphoning campaign money

The investigation into Frey began as a public corruption probe, but Buth says the lack of any credible evidence forced the government to settle for a fraud prosecution involving campaign contributions.

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.

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