Former mayor pleads guilty to fraud

Former Dunkirk Mayor Richard Frey

A former Dunkirk city mayor could spend a number of months behind bars after pleading guilty to wire fraud Wednesday.

Richard L. Frey, 85, faces a recommended sentence of eight to 14 months in prison. He is, however, eligible for a non-jail sentence of probation.

Frey concocted a scheme to defraud his mayoral campaign and his supporters by stealing campaign contributions for his personal benefit, according to Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. in a news release.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Fabian and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section — who are handling the case — stated Frey was the Dunkirk mayor from January 2002 until January 2012. During that time, Frey had substantial personal debt.

From January 2003 to June 2012, Frey devised and executed a scheme to defraud the co-owners of the Clarion Hotel, Marina & Conference Center and the owner of Fieldbrook Foods by inducing them to make contributions to his mayoral and other political campaigns, prosecutors say.

After receiving checks from these individuals, Frey, rather than depositing the funds into a campaign or official account, spent them for his own personal benefit. Prosecutors say the contributions totaled $54,361.30.

In addition, Frey failed to report or disclose the contributions on his campaign disclosure reports, which is required of local candidates for public office.

Cheryl Meyers-Buth, Frey’s attorney, noted the government initially sought evidence of bribery for the case, but after none turned up throughout two years of investigating, prosecutors settled for wire fraud allegations.

“It’s been stressful for him,” she remarked in a phone interview with the OBSERVER. “He’s 85, he’s had a number of very serious health problems, and his wife (has been ill), as well … A lot of people in Dunkirk have been supportive … and he basically is her caregiver, so all of that would be difficult enough without something like this hanging over him.”

Meyers-Buth pointed out Frey’s plea came shortly before the start of a trial, which was scheduled for next month.

“We got, I think, some concessions from the government, and that, combined with the fact that he could relieve his wife and the family of this stress, and frankly the restitution, even though it’s not an insignificant number, is still less than what it would cost to have lawyers try the case,” she added. “So that was also, I think, a consideration for an 85-year-old who’d rather see the money go to his kids or somebody else.”

The OBSERVER reached out to various officials for their reactions to Frey’s guilty plea, including current Mayor Willie Rosas, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala, Third Ward Councilman Adelino Gonzalez, Chautauqua County Legislator Kevin Muldowney (who served on the Common Council with Frey during all 10 years of his administration), Dunkirk Republican Chairman Truman Bradley and County Legislator Terry Niebel (who served as the Republican county elections commissioner).

Niebel declined to comment out of respect for the family. Gonzalez was the only person to offer comments.

“It’s unfortunate what happened,” he said. “Now, with this being brought to its end, we knew something was going to happen eventually. I feel for the family and what’s going on, but … due process does have to be done.”

Frey — a Republican — served for three terms as Dunkirk’s mayor, the first term being two years. He was defeated in the 2011 election by former Mayor Anthony J. Dolce.

He is a lifelong Dunkirk area resident and served in the military during the Korean War, ultimately earning a Purple Heart for his combat duty during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in 1951.

Frey’s plea is the culmination of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Brad Geary.

Sentencing is scheduled for May 11 at 1 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara. The amount of time Frey spends in prison will ultimately be decided by the judge at that time.

“Because of the huge amount of community support that we received on behalf of Mayor Frey, I’m going to submit some character reference letters and other recommendations and we’ll get those to the judge in advance,” Meyers-Buth said.

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