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Ex-Lewis County election official accepts plea deal

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LOWVILLE — A former Lewis County election commissioner accused of authorizing improper payments to her daughter has accepted a plea deal.

Elaine McLear, 56, Van Amber Road, New Bremen, pleaded guilty Friday in Lewis County Court to two counts of second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, Class A misdemeanors, as so-called lesser included charges from the felonies on which she was arraigned.

The plea also satisfies an additional count of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing, as well as charges of official misconduct and petit larceny.

Acting County Judge Donald E. Todd indicated that her sentencing, slated for June 10, would include no more than three years of probation, possibly including community service, and a $50 court fee, with an additional surcharge waived because restitution reportedly has been paid.

Mrs. McLear, as part of the plea deal, also agreed to waive her right to appeal the case and not to seek further employment at the Board of Elections.

“To get a little, you’ve got to give a little,” said Judge Todd, who is handling the case because Judge Daniel R. King recused himself.

The judge said the proposed sentence was derived partly from the fact that Mrs. McLear had “never been in trouble before” and that it was contingent on her cooperating with the county Probation Department on completion of a presentence investigation, showing up for sentencing and staying out of trouble in the interim. Jail time would be possible if any of those conditions were not met, he said.

Mrs. McLear was accused of submitting purchase orders for payments to her daughter, Diane McLear, of $35 for an election inspector training session in August 2011, $120 for working at the Sept. 13, 2011, primary election and $192 for working at the Nov. 8, 2011, general election.

Prosecutor Colleen M. Glavin, assistant state attorney general and public integrity officer, and defense attorney John G. Leonard, Rome, both declined comment after the court session.

Mrs. McLear, who had been the Democratic commissioner since 1997, was suspended without pay Dec. 28, 2011, pending the results of a state police investigation into the allegations.

The matter then was turned over to the attorney general’s office, as the district attorney — like the sheriff — is an elected official who has direct dealings with the Board of Elections.

Mrs. McLear in late June sued the county, seeking reinstatement and back pay, and a state Supreme Court judge ruled in her favor, agreeing election commissioners can be removed from office only by the governor. However, the county appealed the decision, keeping Mrs. McLear from returning to work until that process was completed.

Results of that appeal will determine whether the county will be required to pay Mrs. McLear, who had an annual salary of roughly $35,000, for her year under suspension.

Her term expired Dec. 31, and legislators appointed Lindsay I. Burriss, who served as interim commissioner throughout 2012, to the job on a permanent basis.

Another ex-Lewis County employee, former recreational trail coordinator Robert C. Diehl, 43, Martinsburg, was recently arraigned on charges of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct.

Mr. Diehl, whose case was adjourned to July 12 with a possible Sept. 9 trial date, was accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment on Oct. 25 for stone products from V.S. Virkler & Son, Lowville, that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his residence for his personal use.

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