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Separating fact from fiction in the Liegl-Morton race

The campaign fliers for voters in Cheektowaga, Lancaster and Alden attacked the Erie County Legislature candidates.

Democratic fliers about incumbent Republican Ted Morton accuse him of financial misdeeds.

Republican fliers about Democratic challenger Debra Liegl accuse her of bankruptcy fraud.

So what’s the truth?

A fact check by The Buffalo News found some exaggerated claims regarding Morton, and the negative assertions against Liegl are mostly false.

The attack pieces against Liegl are far more misleading. Those pieces accuse her of “bankruptcy fraud,” “cheating the system” and “concocting a scam.” A Buffalo News review of the claims found none of that to be true.

The basis for the negative Liegl mailers lies with a 10-year-old legal claim filed by a bankruptcy trustee after Liegl’s sister, Donna Radt, filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Their ailing mother transferred her house into the names of her six children in 1992. The mother continued to live in the house, along with Radt, who served as their mother’s primary caregiver, according to family members.

When Radt fell into financial distress and filed for bankruptcy, her bankruptcy trustee noted that Radt had spent nearly $43,000 of her own money to repair and maintain the home. Even though Radt and her mother were the only occupants of the house, the trustee noted that Radt was only one of six siblings whose names were listed on the deed to the house. The trustee submitted a claim stating that the other siblings should have borne more financial responsibility for the home’s maintenance and repair and demanded that they reimburse the estate so that Radt’s creditors could be paid off.

The trustee later agreed to accept a settlement offer of $15,000. The judge’s order approved the compromise agreement. Nowhere does the settlement state that Liegl was required to repay any money.

Radt said she paid off the $15,000 herself by cashing in life insurance policies and submitting her earnings from work. In an interview with The News, Radt said she never involved her siblings and seemed genuinely distressed that her personal financial failings were haunting her sister’s run for office. Radt also said she has rebuilt her credit and bought the home from her siblings outright after their mother died.

David Jaworski, an attorney for Liegl and her family, called the Republican allegations “untrue and libelous” based on his personal knowledge and investigation into the records. Republicans have been unable to produce any other supporting evidence of their claims, beyond the initial bankruptcy trustee claim.

The fliers issued against Morton use less inflammatory language, but accuse him of falsifying records, hiding money and committing a crime. The negative allegations are exaggerations in several instances, but not wholly false.

Claim No. 1: Morton “took” $315,000 from his clients without his company knowing.

Facts: As a financial planner, Morton borrowed $315,000 from his clients from 2009 to 2012. This was done with their consent and a written promise to repay with interest, Morton said. However, this is considered an ethical breach by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and was done without his company’s consent.

Claim No. 2: Morton falsified records, was fined, suspended and fired.

Facts: According to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Morton stated on compliance questionnaires he had not borrowed money from clients when he had.

He was fined $5,000, his license to work as a financial planner was suspended for six months, and he was released as a contractor with LPL Financial.

Claim No. 3: Morton committed “a crime” by hiding $65,000 in loans on the financial ethics disclosure form he is required to submit annually to the County Legislature.

Facts: No legal body has accused Morton of committing any crimes. Morton said that on his 2013 financial disclosure form, he mistakenly said he owed no more than $25,000 in outstanding debts to a single creditor when, in fact, he owed a total of about $90,000 in debts to three different creditors. He said he misunderstood the instructions on the disclosure form and thought he was supposed to list the number of outstanding debts he had at the time he completed the paperwork, instead of reflecting all his debts for 2013, as the form directs. He has since corrected that document.

The outcome of the race in the 8th District, which covers the eastern half of Cheektowaga and Lancaster and Alden, could determine whether Democrats or Republicans gain a majority in the Erie County Legislature for the next two years.