Republican calls on assemblyman to resign, Democrat 'appalled' by corruption charges
The two candidates looking to replace Joseph Errigo in the State Legislature were pointed in their criticism of the Republican assemblyman following his arrest Wednesday on federal bribery and fraud charges, with Republican Marjorie Byrnes calling on Errigo to resign from office.
Errigo, 79, of Conesus, is accused of accepting at least $5,500 to introduce a bill in the Assembly in March that would have reduced local control over a Rochester-area project by allowing the state Department of Transportation to review it and weigh in. He appeared in a Rochester U.S. District courtroom on Wednesday before being released on his own recognizance.
Errigo represents Hornell and parts of Steuben, Livingston, Wyoming and Monroe counties in the state Assembly, having been elected from the 133rd District in 2016 following the suicide of incumbent Bill Nojay, who was facing fraud charges. He defeated Democrat Barbara Baer in the general election in 2016, and Baer is the Democratic nominee once again.
Errigo lost a Republican primary in September to Marjorie Byrnes, but he remains on two minor party lines for the November election — the Reform and Independence slots.
According to the criminal complaint, Errigo told FBI agents in May that he accepted the money and that it was a mistake.
Errigo is charged with bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds and honest services wire fraud. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Baer said the district has been ill-served by Errigo.
“I was appalled and saddened to learn of the charges against Assemblyman Errigo. And I think it’s tragic for him, and frankly, for all of the residents of our district,” Baer, a resident of Pittsford, told The Spectator.
Byrnes, who is from Caledonia, released a statement Wednesday saying she was “grieved to hear of the serious allegations that have been lodged against Assemblyman Joe Errigo. And, if true, I am angered that another one of our elected officials would view his public service as a means of lining his pockets with tainted profit.”
Byrnes continued, “The profiteering of some public officials is causing jaded cynicism among the electorate. It must end.”
Byrnes called on Errigo to step down from his Assembly seat.
“The criminal complaint indicates that Mr. Errigo admitted to accepting a bribe and that he knew it was wrong. Based upon this admission, Mr. Errigo should immediately resign his seat,” she said in the statement released by her campaign.
Byrnes said public officials’ susceptibility to bribery and public corruption is the reason why she supports term limits.
“Our Founding Fathers intended for a citizen legislature where real people serve the public for a limited amount of time before returning to their farms or other business interests. I pledge to serve no more than three, two-year terms,” Byrnes said. “We don’t need politicians collecting envelopes full of cash, but people that seek the state’s best interests.”
Prosecutors did not identify the project involved or the person who allegedly paid the bribe. The government has not ruled out further arrests.
According to the complaint, the case against Errigo stemmed from an FBI investigation into an "unusually close relationship" between a different member of the Assembly and a lobbyist. It eventually expanded to include the alleged bribe payer and Errigo.
The FBI photographed the person who paid the bribe leaving $1,500 in Errigo's car at his Pittsford office in February, the complaint said. Errigo allegedly received $2,000 more in March, 11 days before he introduced bill A10227 in the Assembly. With the FBI secretly monitoring, Errigo received another $2,000 in cash in April, according to the complaint.
The lobbyist received $5,000, some of which the lobbyist said would be used to "grease the skids with Errigo," according to the complaint.
Baer said she does not know the identity of either the other assemblyman or lobbyist, but she predicts additional charges will be filed in connection with the case.
“I think there is a lot more to come from this story and I do believe the U.S. attorney will have to eventually, or in the near future, bring indictments on the other two people,” Baer said.
Baer said the allegations of public corruption against Nojay and Errigo have detracted from a healthy dialogue about the issues important to the district.
“All I wanted to do, in all these races, is debate the issues and I have been running now against a cast of characters that boggles the mind,” she said. “From Nojay, nobody wishes what happened, to Errigo, now indicted.”
Baer said she wants to focus on Main Street revitalization and helping people who have to work two jobs to make ends meet. She is not calling on Errigo to resign his Assembly seat, and she questions Byrnes’ motives in for doing so.
“What’s the difference at this point? He’s not convicted. If he is convicted and wants to resign, I get it,” she said. “I think Marge Byrnes wants him off the line because she doesn’t want him to get any votes. Frankly what either of us wants is irrelevant. It’s what the law is.”
Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press contributed to this report.