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Lackawanna council candidate can run despite a felony conviction, commissioners rule

A candidate for Lackawanna City Council with a felony conviction has survived an effort to kick him off the ballot because of his crime.

Opponents in Lackawanna's First Ward challenged Mohamed T. Albanna's petition to be on the ballot because of his 11-year-old conviction for illegally sending $5.5 million to Yemen, his native country.

The Erie County Board of Election commissioners unanimously rejected two challenges to Albanna's petitions following a hearing.

"That kind of blew it out of the sky," said Albanna, owner of AB&S Wholesale on Clinton Street.

He did 5 years in federal prison, now wants 4 years on Lackawanna council

Albanna was prosecuted under the Patriot Act during an era in which the Justice Department aggressively investigated numerous American Muslims after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Prosecutors found no evidence that Albanna was funding terrorist activities.

Albanna said there was only one victim - himself - in the crime.

"It should not matter because there was no victim in the case except me," said Albanna. "That money sent overseas was money earned by more than 1,000 people and sent to their families. The assumption that the money was mine had no basis in fact."

The issue raised in the ballot challenges was whether Albanna's crime was a crime of moral turpitude. The Lackawanna City Charter bars anyone convicted of such a crime from holding public office.

The challenge was raised by John Ingram, who sits of the boards of several organizations including the Lackawanna Municipal Housing Authority and the Lackawanna Library. Ingram,  is running against Albanna in a Conservative Party primary.

Ingram, who previously said he would not make the felony conviction an issue, pointed to the Lackawanna city charter.

"It's the law of the city that convicted felons can not hold office," said Ingram. "I don't understand why my challenge was rejected."

Daniel Koziol, a member of the Conservative Party and First Ward resident, also filed a challenge.

"Both objections claimed that Albanna had pled guilty to a crime of moral turpitude and he would not be qualified to serve in office, but both Commissioner (Ralph M.) Mohr and myself rejected them," said Jeremy J. Zellner, the Democratic elections commissioner.

Neither Ingram nor Koziol appeared at the hearing July 31 at the Board of Elections office, according to Mohr, the Republican commissioner.

Philip M. Marshall, a defense attorney, represented Albanna at the hearing. Marshall noted that the federal statute Albanna pled guilty to in 2006 had changed.

"There was not a requirement of intent to the crime he admitted to," said Mohr. "Based on those facts, both Commissioner Zellner and myself agreed we could not go that extra step to determine that he would be disqualified from serving if elected. We overruled the objections and placed his name on the ballot."

Albanna maintained his commitment to people in Lackawanna.

"That felony does not describe me then, and it does not describe be now," Albanna said. "I will always be committed to the betterment of the First Ward and the City of Lackawanna."

In the Sept. 12 primary election, Albanna and Ingram will be running against each other for the Conservative Party nomination. Only First Ward voters enrolled in the Conservative Party can vote in that race.

Albanna will be on the Nov. 7 general election ballot on the Democratic Party line. No candidates will be on the Republican Party line.

Ingram, who filed petitions to run on the Democratic, Conservative and Working Families ballot lines against Albanna, was removed by the election commissioners from the Democratic line due to insufficient petitions, said Mohr.

"People can still write me in," said John Ingram, who is focused on the primary. "We'll be sending out flyers all this weekend and next. We are focusing on every voter in the First Ward. They know what I have done and what I will do for the community. I will leave it in their hands."

Both candidates lost the Working Families line for insufficient petitions, Mohr said. Ingram has since filed an independent nomination petition to obtain a second line on the general election ballot, Mohr added.





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