Les and Cheryl Holmes plead guilty in election fraud case

Granby Town Councilor Cheryl Holmes, seen above at a recent town meeting, will resign her seat as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. Holmes and husband Leslie were accused of violations of New York election law.

Granby couple must abstain from political activity for duration of probation

 

SYRACUSE — The Granby couple charged in December with a series of election-related crimes pleaded guilty Monday as part of an agreement with prosecutors that includes probation and a promise to cease political activity. 

Granby Town Councilor Cheryl A. Holmes, 71, and former Granby Republican Committee Chairman Leslie K. Holmes, 76, were both charged with a series of crimes related to electoral designating petitions filed in July 2018. The Holmeses are scheduled for sentencing April 23 at 1:30 p.m. in Onondaga County Court. 

Cheryl Holmes pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in relation to election petitions, an unclassified misdemeanor. Leslie Holmes pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree offering a false instrument for filing, a class A misdemeanor, which is a reduction from the initial felony charge of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing. 

Assistant Attorney General Mary Gorman, who is prosecuting the case, said the Holmeses guilty pleas would “satisfy all charges” the couple was facing. 

As part of the plea deal, Cheryl Holmes agreed to resign from the Granby Town Council on or before March 2 and to vacate her position on the Granby Republican Committee. She is also expected to receive one-year of probation, pay a $500 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and cease involvement in all political activities during the term of her probation with the exception of registering with a political party and voting.

Under his plea deal, Leslie Holmes agreed to resign from the Granby Republican Committee, serve three years of probation, pay a $1,000 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and cease involvement in all political activities with the exception of registering with a political party and voting. 

Prosecutors and Onondaga County Court Judge Stephen Dougherty, who is overseeing the case, noted under the ban on political activity the Holmeses would still be able to exercise their first amendment rights, but would not be allowed to fundraise, carry petitions or take part in other similar activities. 

“It wouldn’t prevent Holmes from expressing her opinion in exercising her free speech in support of some candidate as long as she’s not fundraising or things of that nature,” Dougherty said of the ban on political activity.  

State police initially charged Leslie Holmes with seven counts of second-degree possession of a forged instrument, a class D felony, one count of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing with intent to defraud, a class E felony, four counts of making a punishable false written statement, a class A misdemeanor, fourcounts of misconduct in relation to election petitions, an unclassified misdemeanor, and one count of primary election violations, also an unclassified misdemeanor.

Individuals seeking to contest most elected offices in New York, from town and village boards to judgeships and even the governor’s seat, are required to collect signatures from voters in their intended constituency to earn a spot on the ballot. The resulting document with signatures is called a designating petition.

Four of the criminal possession of a forged instrument charges against Leslie Holmes are related to his alleged possession of “a Designating Petition with the forged signature of a deceased individual,” according to the indictment, with three counts related to the possession of simple forged signatures.

Cheryl Holmes, a Republican elected to a one-year term on the town board in 2018 to fill a vacancy, faced one count each of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing with intent to defraud, making a punishable false written statement, misconduct in relation to election petitions and primary election violations. Last November, she was re-elected to the town board for a two-year term, which started Jan. 1.

The felony charges the Holmeses faced for first-degree offering a false instrument for filing are related to allegations that the couple knowingly provided designating petitions to the Oswego County Board of Elections that contained false statements and information. The charges the  Holmeses faced for making a punishable false written statement are related to their alleged false statements on the witness portion of the designating petition.

Both were also charged with an unclassified misdemeanor at, or in connection with primary elections, caucuses, enrollment in political parties, committees and conventions. According to the indictment, those charges are connected to the pair’s fraudulent or wrongful acts “tending to affect the result of the 2018 primary election for a Town of Granby Town Council seat.”

Court records reviewed by The Palladium-Times show Cheryl Holmes’ petitions used during her run for Granby Town Council in 2018, contained forged signatures including some forgeries of deceased individuals’ signatures.

Documents obtained by The Palladium-Times — copies of the original petition sheets filled out by the Holmses — appear to show irregularities and inconsistencies, including individuals signing multiple times and signatures from non-residents. Leslie Holmes served as a witness for the majority of the signatures.

Above the witness signature line on the petitions, which both Holmes signed, is a notice that states the material “will be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit and, if it contains a material false statement, shall subject (the signer) to the penalties as if (the signer) had been duly sworn.”

Judge Dougherty noted in court the Holmeses would be interviewed by probation officials and must “stay out of trouble.”

“Screw up any of [the terms of your plea], and there could be a jail sentence,” he said.

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