Three Rensselaer County officials with close ties to the ruling Republican Party were indicted last week on federal charges as part of an investigation into ballot fraud. Now, the current and former mayors of the city of Rensselaer are weighing in.
According to the U.S. Attorney, Richard Crist, James Gordon, and Leslie Wallace were arrested and charged Thursday with conspiring to violate the rights of county voters during the 2021 election cycle.
The alleged ballot scheme in Troy appears to have taken advantage of looser absentee ballot requirements that were in place during the pandemic.
Crist is the Director of Operations for Rensselaer County, Gordon is the Director of the Bureau for Central Services of the county, and Wallace works for the county executive.
Rich Mooney, a Democrat, says the federal investigation began during his time as mayor of the city of Rensselaer.
“During the election, during the campaign of 2021, myself, my team, noticed some irregularities with absentee ballots,” said Mooney. “During the recount of the election of 2021 we challenged up to 60 ballots that we thought were tainted and not legitimate ballots. Well, along with that, we had an individual come forward, who told us that he did not request an absentee ballot and one was released to a Republican operative in his name and had voted for him. That individual had the courage to sign an affidavit. And we took that to the state police. And that is what started the ballot fraud investigation in the city of Rensselaer and Rensselaer County.”
Mooney says State Police investigators began interviewing residents the next day. Current Republican Mayor Mike Stammel says Mooney “should be careful” what he says.
“Mr. Mooney is just an individual here in city politics, who has never won an election when he ran against any candidate,” said Stammel. “He’s only won one election as a councilman or council president where nobody ran against him. And furthermore, I find that Mr. Mooney, that when he was mayor, should be careful about some of the things he says and does, because when his time in office, he’s also been under investigation for the acts of his administration for utilizing fraud from what I understand it to be, with action taken in the planning department, and having hired people to do duties for the city that really wasn’t for the city. It was really for his own political campaign.”
Mooney claims ballot fraud has been a problem for city government, but Stammel says that’s sour grapes on the part of the former mayor.
“And when it came to Mr. Mooney, he was beat not only on the ballot box, or when people come in to vote on the machine, as well as in the absentee ballots that were put forward,” Stammel said. “So he was just beat fair and squarely and has not gotten over that yet. “
In January, former Rensselaer County Elections Commissioner Jason Schofield pleaded guilty to unlawfully using the names and dates of birth of voters to fraudulently apply for absentee ballots. The Republican had resigned at the end of December.
Last June, Republican Troy City Councilor Kim Ashe-McPherson resigned after pleading guilty to fraudulently submitting absentee ballots in 2021.
Mooney says the two put their reputations on the line for a handful of votes.
“I do not believe it’s worth risking your career, your reputation, the damage you’re doing to your family,” said Mooney. “And that’s what people forget. All these individuals have families, and they’re the ones that I really feel bad for the families. The families weren’t involved in this, it was the individuals, those individuals who chose to go down this path and that is very sad.”
Republican Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin, acquitted earlier this year of campaign finance charges in a separate case brought the state attorney general, said in a statement that Crist, Gordon and Wallace will be able to continue working for the county. Quoting: “Our system states those charged are innocent until proven guilty and I firsthand know significance of that statement, having recently gone through a similar experience. Members of our team will have their day in court and until then, have opportunity to continue their work.”
Democratic Troy Mayor Patrick Madden responded to a request for comment via email, saying in part “…the actions alleged in the Rensselaer County indictment undermine the integrity of our electoral system – the very bedrock of our democracy. As this process bears out over the coming months, let’s keep in mind that these are charges. Nothing has been proven and I very much hope for the sake of our community that the allegations in this indictment are not true. As a lawyer, I put my trust in our court system and will await the outcome of the legal process.”
Calls to Crist, Gordon and Wallace seeking comment were not answered.