Town of Niagara: Richards could accept plea dealby jmaloni
by Susan Mikula Campbell
Rumors were rampant in the Town of Niagara this week that Supervisor Steve Richards will be accepting a plea deal in State Supreme Court on Monday and stepping down from office.
Parties involved, including the state attorney general's office, town councilmen, Richards' lawyers and Richards himself either declined comment or did not return calls.
However, Richards is due to appear before State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Burns on Monday for a hearing. Originally, Monday's scheduled court appearance was to be in Niagara County for jury selection.
Richards reportedly removed his personal items from his office at Town Hall. Phone calls to the supervisor's extension at Town Hall are no longer answered by "This is Steve Richards. ..." Instead callers are told that this "extension is not available at this time."
Richards did not attend Tuesday's public hearing at Town Hall for residents interested in learning more about Benderson Development's plans for its Military Place development.
After the meeting, some councilmen were overheard asking the town attorney about how to handle the appointment of a new supervisor if Richards does indeed accept a plea deal and steps down from office as part of that deal. Councilman Danny Sklarski currently serves as deputy supervisor.
A source who had been in contact with the state attorney general's office said he was told by an official there that it appears that Richards intends to accept a plea deal that would reduce charges from a felony to a misdemeanor and include his agreement to step down from office and provide some type of restitution to the town.
Three of the 28 counts of the state attorney general's office originally brought against Richards were dropped.
In a written opinion in March after hearing arguments from the lawyers to drop more of the charges, Burns commented that "Contrary to defendant's contention, the people's underlying theory of the case is that this defendant, through his official position, misappropriated, stole or otherwise gained a benefit from the use of town property, resources, supplies or labor."
Richards had been accused in the original indictment of taking supplies such as paint, screening, drain cleaner, sign posts and an outdated police shotgun from the town. Among other items, it also indicated that town equipment and employees were used to deliver some of these items and take a drill (that Richards loaned to the town) for repair.
Richards, up to this point, has vowed to continue the fight to clear his name despite the cost.