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Lackawanna mayor back in court to bar Albanna from council seat

Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski is 0-2 in his bid to prevent businessman Mohamed T. Albanna from assuming public office.

But he's not giving up.

Szymanski's third attempt is scheduled to play out at 2 p.m. Tuesday before Judge Tracey A. Bannister in State Supreme Court. This time he will seek a judgment to declare Albanna ineligible to hold a seat on the Lackawanna City Council, the mayor said Monday.

On the other side of the court aisle will be an attorney determined to help Albanna fill the seat he won in the Nov. 7 election, when Albanna defeated John Ingram.

"This is xenophobic," said Peter Reese, one of Albanna's attorneys. "This is just nonsense. If we get to the merits — and no court has reached the merits of this case — it won't happen."

Szymanski strongly disagreed with Reese's statement.

"That's as cheap of a response as one can possibly get," said Szymanski. "I've worked well with Councilman (Abdul) Noman and other members of the Yemen community for the 12 years I've been an elected officer in this city."

Opponents in Lackawanna consistently challenged Albanna’s right to hold office in Lackawanna because of his 11-year-old conviction for illegally sending $5.5 million to Yemen, his native country.

They point to Section 14.9 of the City Charter that provides: "A person convicted of a crime or offense involving moral turpitude shall be ineligible to assume or continue in any city office, position or employment."

The Erie County Board of Elections commissioners in July unanimously rejected two challenges to Albanna’s petitions to run for the council seat. Both actions — including one filed by Szymanski — cited the City Charter section as a basis for the challenge.

In October, Supreme Court Justice James H. Dillon threw Szymanski's first lawsuit out on a procedural error when it was determined attorney Jeffrey Bochiechio had not properly filed required documents with the Erie County Clerk’s Office.

Albanna, owner of AB&S Wholesale on Clinton Street, was prosecuted under the Patriot Act during a time when the Justice Department aggressively investigated some Muslims following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Prosecutors in the federal case found no evidence that Albanna was funding terrorist activities.

Representing Szymanski are two attorneys hired by the city: Michael Risman, a municipal law expert, and Bochiechio. Szymanski estimated their legal tab to date at $3,000.

The mayor said the lawsuits stem from his duty to uphold the City Charter.

"It's not my fault some members of the First Ward voted for a person who is ineligible to be seated as an elected official, but it is my obligation to uphold the laws of the city," he said.

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