Francis D. Pezzimenti, the longtime Village of Allegany police chief, was indicted Friday by a Cattaraugus County grand jury after New York State Electric and Gas accused him of stealing between $1,000 and $3,000 worth of natural gas by tampering with a meter at his home.
Pezzimenti, 63, pleaded innocent before Judge John T. Ward to felony charges of fourth-degree grand larceny and two misdemeanor counts of theft of services.
He was named in a sealed indictment handed up a week ago and is accused of diverting the gas, so it did not register on the meter, between April 1991 and December 1994.
Pezzimenti has been police chief for 19 years, served as fire chief for 38 years and is also head of the village's Public Works Department.
Ward released Pezzimenti without bail, directing him to report to the State Police at Falconer this morning to be photographed and fingerprinted.
District Attorney Michael P. Nevins removed himself from the case to avoid any impropriety. Chautauqua County Assistant District Attorney Barbara L. Widrig presented the case to the grand jury.
During his arraignment, Pezzimenti was accompanied by his attorney, David Franz of Olean, who accused the gas company of amplifying the situation by "making a poster boy out of him."
Explaining the events leading to the charges, Pezzimenti said "two guys stormed my house Jan. 10. They set me up," he said describing how two NYSEG employees came inside his unlocked house to check the gas meter.
"I have no idea who would do this to me," Pezzimenti said. "I'd been paying the bill every month." He said: "If I wasn't the police chief, they'd have just billed me."
Franz agreed. "They could have just read his meter," and sent a bill for any excess gas used. "Apparently they'd not been reading the meter for some time."
He said the gas company conducted its own investigation. Results were then taken to Nevins who removed himself from the case and called on a prosecutor from Chautauqua County to handle the case.
At a meeting earlier this week, Pezzimenti explained the charges to the Village Board. "They are behind me 100 percent," he said, adding he will not be resigning any village positions.
Deputy Mayor John Gaston confirmed the session saying, "Yes, we are behind him although we don't know the validity of the charges. He's done a lot of good for people."
Pezzimenti is well-known throughout the county's police and fire service. A portion of his jurisdiction includes St. Bonaventure University.
"Throughout my life, I've always helped people and kids from St. Bonaventure, even Bob Lanier. I still get calls from all over the country from them," Pezzimenti said.
"I am embarrassed and humiliated," he said. "There's never been anything like this happen to me in my life. I have seven daughters and feel so bad for them."
One daughter who is employed by the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department joined him in court.