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Mongielo awaits verdict after trial over video sign

Businessman David J. Mongielo could be sentenced to as long as 15 days in jail if he is convicted of violating the Town of Lockport sign ordinance again.

Mongielo was tried in Town Court on Wednesday on a charge of using the video signboard in front of his Robinson Road auto repair shop to promote a benefit event for Niagara County Sheriff's Deputy Allen A. Gerhardt, who lost both legs in a patrol car crash July 18.

Town Justice Raymond E. Schilling said he will announce his verdict, and the sentence if there is a conviction, Jan. 19.

Town law prohibits signs that change their display more than once every 10 minutes.

Mongielo, a Republican Party committeeman, lost a 2009 attempt to defeat Republican Supervisor Marc R. Smith. He says town officials are harassing him.

A nine-minute, 14-second video shot Aug. 25 by Donald J. Jablonski, Zoning Board member and town GOP chairman, showed Mongielo's sign changing every two seconds.

There were two displays: first a photo of Gerhardt beside a depiction of a sheriff's badge, and then four lines of text promoting a fundraiser for Gerhardt at a Buffalo Bisons game.

"The sign did not change. It showed a consistent video," argued Mongielo, representing himself. "The other one's underneath the first one, so it's still there."

"You could have put that [text] up for 10 minutes without putting Deputy Gerhardt's picture up," replied town prosecutor Bradley Marble.

Marble said a conviction would equal a violation of the one-year conditional discharge Mongielo received, in addition to a $750 fine, when he was convicted of sign violations last year. Marble said Mongielo could be jailed for the violation.

"If they want to put me in jail for putting a fundraiser on my sign, so be it," Mongielo said after court.

"I do not believe that Deputy Gerhardt, who spent his whole career upholding the law, would appreciate Mr. Mongielo breaking the law in his name," Marble said in his summation.

Mongielo argued that the 10-minute rule is selectively enforced. He charged there were violations at Transit Car Wash and Ridge Road Express.

Chief Building Inspector Brian M. Belson testified that Mighty Taco was a violator, too. He said all three businesses complied with the law after receiving warning letters.

"We work with people. If you would comply, we wouldn't be here," Belson told Mongielo from the witness stand.

Mongielo said the time and temperature board at Lockport Footcare Center on Robinson Road is a violation. Belson said that sign went up in 2003 and the 10-minute rule was passed in 2006, so it's legal.

Schilling ruled in July 2010, upon a challenge from Mongielo, that the town's law was not unconstitutional.

When Mongielo tried Wednesday to make a First Amendment free-speech argument against the law, Marble reminded Schilling of his previous ruling and noted it was never appealed.

Sign laws more restrictive than Lockport's in other states have been upheld at the federal court level.

Smith said the town has no plans to change its law. "I think the direction we were given by public hearings and things we had at the time was, residents didn't want to see blinking, flashing lights," the supervisor said.