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PROBE BY DA CLEARS CONDE, THREE OTHERS

Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III announced Wednesday that no criminal charges will be filed against County Legislator Frank N. Conde, D-Niagara Falls, and three others accused of illegal activities in last summer's nominating petition process.

Others taken off the hook by Murphy were Niagara Falls attorney Edward P. Perlman, Niagara Falls City Democratic Chairman Thomas J. Lafornia III, and Gregory Schnitzer, a reporter for a chain of weekly newspapers.

Conde, who admitted signing witness statements on petition sheets he did not actually circulate, said, "It was an honest mistake. I'm gratified."

Murphy said, "The Criminal Law should punish people who intentionally break the law, not make a mistake in good faith. The tightrope one is asked to walk to achieve political office should not be so narrow that one false step results not only in ballot disqualification but in criminal prosecution."

Conde said he accidentally he signed four petition sheets circulated by someone else because they were mixed in with petitions he did personally carry. Murphy found no evidence that would cause him to doubt that story.

When Conde's Republican opponent, Samuel P. Granieri, filed suit to invalidate the petitions, Conde relinquished the Democratic line to settle the case. Murphy said that fact "is further evidence that justice has been served."

Conde is seeking re-election on the Liberal and Right to Life Party lines.

Conde's attorney, Timothy J. Toohey of Lewiston, accused Perlman, Granieri's attorney, of flashing a "shiny gold badge" at Livio Bellardi of Niagara Falls while investigating Conde's petitions. Bellardi obtained the signatures on the sheets Conde wrongly signed.

Toohey accused Perlman of impersonating a law officer. The district attorney said, "The evidence of criminal intent is simply lacking."

Lafornia was accused of fraudulently signing a witness statement on a nominating petition for 4th District Legislature candidate Mark D. Trosky. The petition was carried by Lawrence Lang, who simultaneously collected identical signatures on a petition for another candidate for the same seat, Leo A. Alcuri.

Lafornia's signature was just a mistake, Murphy ruled. "There is no evidence of preplanning that would show criminal intent," he said.

Murphy said Schnitzer, sports editor and circulation manager at Niagara Frontier Publications, admitted forging signatures on a Republican petition for 10th District Legislator when he ran out of time to collect actual signatures.

He told Murphy he was doing that for a newspaper story to demonstrate that county politicians were so "corrupt" or "incompetent . . . that they could not identify obvious forgeries."

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