Mohamed T. Albanna, who was elected to the Lackawanna City Council by voters in November, is barred from assuming the seat because of his prior conviction of a crime of moral turpitude, the state Appellate Division has ruled.
Monday's order by a panel of five appeals court judges upheld a lower court ruling in favor of Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski, who sued to prevent Albanna, a convicted felon, from taking office.
Albanna, a longtime Lackawanna businessman and a leader in the Western New York Yemeni community, was sentenced in 2006 to five years in prison for operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business that sent $5 million to Yemen.
On Tuesday morning, Albanna expressed deep disappointment over the appellate decision.
"It's business as usual," Albanna said. "We gave it all we had and it did not work out so I will continue to do what I can to forward the agenda in the city. Life goes on."
Albanna won the Council seat in the November election against community activist John Ingram. He appealed Supreme Court Justice Tracey A. Bannister's ruling in December that he was ineligible to hold office.
Szymanski's efforts to block Albanna from office was rooted in the City Charter provision that "[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.'
On Tuesday, the mayor's elation was unbridled.
"There are not a lot of good days being mayor of Lackawanna," Szymanski said. "There are a lot of headaches, sleepness nights and constant worry. So when I win, I feel vindicated. It's a great day for Lackawanna and for America."
Now the Lackawanna City Council will decide who will fill the vacant seat through Dec. 31. The City Council will meet Monday, Jan. 29.
The appellate division ruling pointed to Albanna's plea agreement in 2006 in which he acknowledged that he:
- Illegally transmitted more than $3.5 million to Yemen over a 13½-month period.
- Transmitted money to Yemen from individuals who did not fully and accurately identify themselves.
- Transmitted money to Yemen without inquiring about the source of the money or why it was being sent.
- Made false entries in a money transfer ledger to hide the identities of certain senders and recipients.
- Failed to file required currency transaction reports for cash transactions in excess of $10,000.
- Knew his business did not have the required license to transmit money.