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Activist Rus Thompson rejects plea offer in voting fraud case

The voting fraud case against political activist Rus Thompson will “run its course,” as the judge put it Friday after Thompson rejected a plea offer from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Defense attorney Thomas Eoannou called the conditions of the plea totally unreasonable, because it would have left the door open for his client to spend up to four years in prison.

“A felony disposition of this case is inappropriate,” Eoannou said.

Thompson was charged earlier this month with one count of false registration and using that false voting registration to cast ballots on Grand Island in the primary and general elections in 2015, which included positions for supervisor and Town Board, and in the 2016 primary election.

A significant amount of evidence proved the charge, including Thompson’s “own admission to this conduct,” prosecutor Paul E. Bonanno said in a brief appearance Friday morning before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns.

Thompson, 60, who now lives in Niagara Falls, has claimed he was “mysteriously removed from the voter rolls.”

Thompson in recent weeks has said that new Supervisor Nathan D. McMurray found that hundreds of files had been deleted from a town office computer before he took office in January. The News reported last week that McMurray planned to consult with the district attorney’s office to determine whether a crime was committed when the files were deleted from a town server at the end of former Supervisor Mary S. Cooke’s term.

“To me, it’s a crime,” he said then.

Meanwhile, Thompson’s case is headed to a grand jury, although Thompson said Friday he will not testify before the jury.

Thompson has a prior criminal conviction, apparently for a drunk-driving hit-and-run incident in 1990 when he lived in Arizona. The incident was widely reported when Thompson was helping Carl P. Paladino during his 2010 campaign for governor, and Thompson said at the time that he has been sober ever since.

Eoannou indicated he considers the current felony charges against his client to be excessive.

“This (election law) statute has been used maybe four or five times since Susan B. Anthony, when it was used against her,” Eoannou said.

Paladino called the proceedings a “Star Chamber” and accused the district attorney’s office of conducting a political prosecution.

“There is no ‘integrity’ in his Public Integrity Office,” Paladino said, referring to the unit assigned to investigate crimes committed by elected officials, political candidates and other public employees.

Acting District Attorney Michael P. Flaherty Jr. said he could not comment of the specifics of the case while it is pending, but he stressed the importance of protecting the legitimacy of the voting process. The defendant’s public profile, or lack of one, does not factor in, he said.

“We will prosecute no matter who you are or who your friends are,” Flaherty said. “Voting is one of our most cherished and sacred rights, and we will protect it.”