Updated 6:24 p.m. ET
The mayor of Rochester, N.Y., Lovely Warren entered a not guilty plea Monday afternoon to campaign finance fraud charges. If convicted, she could be removed from office and be disbarred.
The mayor was released under her own recognizance.
The court appearance comes three days after the second-term mayor and two political associates were indicted on charges they knowingly committed finance violations stemming from the 2017 reelection campaign.
Separately, Warren is facing mounting criticism for her administration’s handling of the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died of asphyxiation in March following an encounter with Rochester police. Protests erupted in the city when details of his death became public months later.
Albert Jones Jr., Warren’s campaign treasurer, and Rosalind Brooks-Harris, who was the treasurer of a political action committee for Warren and now serves as Rochester’s finance director, also entered not guilty pleas.
As with Warren, prosecutors made no bail request for them.
All three are scheduled to have their next court appearance Jan. 12.
Sandra Doorley, the Monroe County District Attorney, announced Friday that a grand jury handed up indictments, which include a first-degree charge of scheme to defraud and campaign finance violations “for the purpose of evading the contribution limits set by law.”
“I don’t believe this affects her ability to serve as the mayor,” Doorley said of the indictment.
“Lovely Warren is still the mayor of the city of Rochester. Mayoral business needs to continue. I don’t want to disrupt that and I want us to continue in our community,” she added.
Prosecutors would not disclose the specific amount of the alleged violation, but they suggested it could be several hundred thousand dollars. Officials noted the donation limits for the 2017 mayoral campaign cycle was capped at $8,557 dollars.
Both charges are nonviolent Class E felonies, which if convicted, carry a range of sentences from no jail time to four years in prison, according to Rochester-based NPR member station WXXI. Warren could also lose her law license if found guilty.
According to state law, a felony conviction would also be grounds for removal from office.
The mayor has not commented publicly since the indictment was announced. However, an attorney for Warren told WXXI that she is innocent of the charges.
“Her position has not changed one bit and that is she’s innocent and that she maintains that she did not intend to violate the law,” said Warren’s attorney Joseph Damelio. “She did not knowingly violate the law and she’s anxious to get this process started and she’s ready to go to trial.”
The timing of the charges are problematic for the mayor.
While Warren has resisted calls thus far to resign, the charges will surely be damaging to her reelection prospects. She plans to seek another term when the current one expires at the end of next year, according to the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper.
Warren’s office has previously said she was not informed of the full details of Prude’s death until August, roughly five months after he died following an encounter with police. Critics have called that timeline into question.
Justin Roj, communications director for the mayor who was among the officials she suspended last month, tweeted that he was not aware of what happened to Prude before Aug. 4.
Attorneys for the Prude family released police video of the encounter to the public weeks later.
Prude had suffered from mental health issues, when was fatally restrained by police in Rochester. Prude’s brother called 911 to report Prude was missing and suffering from a mental health crisis.
When police encountered Prude, he was naked and there are reports that he said he had the coronavirus. Police handcuffed Prude and placed a mesh covering over his head, known as a “spit hood,” to prevent him from spitting and biting.
Officers then held his head to the ground. Prude died several days later.
Last month, Warren fired then-police chief La’Ron Singletary, two weeks before he planned to step down from the post.
Warren has also requested federal investigations and citywide reforms since Prude’s death became widely known following the release of police footage last month. The footage sparked protests and accusations of a police cover-up.