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Sentencing for Mascia comes amid plea dispute

Joseph A. Mascia, whose guilty plea to an election law misdemeanor in two unsuccessful campaigns led to legal problems in his successful bid last month for re-election as a Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority tenant commissioner, is scheduled to be sentenced today in City Court.

But Mascia said he will ask to withdraw his plea after learning that prosecutors are seeking the maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine.

Mascia said that when he pleaded guilty before Chief City Judge Thomas P. Amodeo, he did not know that prosecutors would recommend the maximum sentence.

He learned of it when he appeared in City Court for sentencing in early July, he said, but the sentencing was postponed until this week.

Mascia pleaded guilty April 11 to failing to file campaign financial-disclosure statements in the 2011 Erie County Legislature and 2012 Assembly races.

The judge made no sentencing commitment. As a condition of the plea, prosecutors said that before Mascia is sentenced, he must file all the required disclosure statements for both races and that if he fails to do so, the plea could be revoked, meaning that he would face trial.

Mascia said he has filed the disclosure statements. He said that if prosecutors recommend the maximum sentence, he might as well withdraw his plea and go to trial.

Mascia, a frequent critic of the BMHA administration, cited other fallout from his plea, including his removal from the board.

David Rodriguez, the BMHA general counsel, told the board that the election law misdemeanor was a violation of Mascia’s oath of office under the state Public Officers Law, automatically vacating his tenant commissioner position.

But Mascia’s attorney, Joseph G. Makowski, said Mascia’s failure to file campaign financial-disclosure statements was not a crime of moral turpitude and therefore not a violation of his oath of office.

Meanwhile, Mascia, who was running for another term as a BMHA tenant commissioner in the June 10 election, was informed in May by the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, which was hired to conduct the election, that his name was taken off the ballot because he had claimed in an April 11 candidate’s interview with the league that he was a tenant commissioner when he was not.

Mascia obtained a temporary restraining order preventing the league from holding the election without his name on the ballot. On June 16, State Supreme Court Justice Shirley Troutman ruled that his guilty plea did not bar Mascia from seeking re-election. He was elected July 8.

The BMHA is appealing Troutman’s finding that Mascia’s guilty plea did not involve a crime of moral turpitude that would automatically remove him from office.

Laurence K. Rubin, who represented the BMHA and League of Women Voters in the case, said he filed a notice of appeal.

“This is a serious matter requiring removal from office, and the BMHA acted properly in its duty to carry out the public trust,” he said.

Rubin said the appeals court ruling would apply only to Mascia’s previous term on the board, which expired June 30, not to his new term.