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Former Dunkirk mayor pleads not guilty to federal charges of misusing campaign contributions

Richard L. Frey says the allegations that he stole campaign contributions are off base.

In his first federal court appearance since getting indicted, the former Dunkirk mayor pleaded not guilty Thursday to the 13 felony charges against him.

Frey, who served as mayor for 10 years, is accused of using $14,500 in campaign contributions from two Dunkirk donors for his personal use.

“We don’t think Mayor Frey did anything wrong,” Cheryl Meyers Buth, Frey’s defense lawyer, said after his arraignment Thursday.

Meyers Buth described the allegations as campaign law violations, not felony criminal charges, and said Frey will challenge them at trial.

The grand jury indictment, unsealed earlier this week, charges Frey with 12 counts of wire fraud and one count of making a false statement to the FBI. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

At the core of the government’s case is the allegation that Frey devised a scheme to solicit campaign contributions that he then used for his personal benefit or deposited in his personal bank accounts.

The contributions, the FBI says, came from individuals and businesses with matters pending before the city.

The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John E. Rogowski, also alleges that Frey tried to hide the campaign contributions by not listing them on his financial-disclosure reports.

“There’s an allegation,” Meyers Buth said of the indictment. “We’ll see if the government can prove that allegation.”

She noted that Frey, now 83, had been working for one of the donors, a Dunkirk hotel, since he retired as mayor. He lost his bid for re-election in 2011.

In court, she described her client as a decorated war veteran and family man who served honorably as mayor for 10 years.

Frey received a Purple Heart for wounds suffered during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War.