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Former Lewis election commissioner faces criminal charges

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LOWVILLE — More than a year after being suspended on allegations of authorizing $347 worth of improper payments to her daughter, a former Lewis County election commissioner now faces criminal charges.

Elaine McLear, New Bremen, on Tuesday afternoon was arraigned on an unsealed indictment including three felony counts of first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and single misdemeanor counts of official misconduct and petit larceny. She pleaded innocent, and her case was adjourned to March 29.

Acting County Judge Donald E. Todd, who is presiding over the case, released Mrs. McLear on her own recognizance, directing her to visit the local state police barracks for processing.

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.

“The people are, in fact, ready for trial,” prosecutor Colleen M. Glavin, assistant state attorney general and public integrity officer, told the judge.

Rome attorney John G. Leonard, who is representing Mrs. McLear, declined immediate comment following Tuesday’s arraignment, noting he had yet to review the unsealed court documents.

Judge Todd, an Oswego County judge, is handling the case because newly elected Lewis County Judge Daniel R. King recused himself.

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 was then 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 justice 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 is completed.

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.

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.

A county filing in the civil case indicated that Diane McLear, through attorney Michael F. Young, admitted that she was not due payment for the two elections and on June 27 issued a refund check for $312 to the county.

The former commissioner is the second Lewis County official to face criminal charges within the past few months.

Recreational Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl, 43, who is currently suspended with pay, in November was arraigned in Lowville Village Court on charges of third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct. He was accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment in late October for stone products from V.S. Virkler and Son, Lowville, that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his residence for his personal use.

Mr. Diehl has yet to appear in County Court in the criminal matter but, on Dec. 26, did participate in a daylong administrative hearing that was presided over by retired state Supreme Court Justice John S. Parker. Judge Parker is expected to rule soon on whether the Board of Legislators can terminate Mr. Diehl.

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