Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin was charged Wednesday with two felony counts stemming from allegations he stole $3,500 in campaign funds and used it to pay personal debts, Attorney General Letitia James announced.
McLaughlin, a Republican and outspoken critic of state government, was charged with third-degree grand larceny and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.
James’ office accused McLaughlin of withdrawing $5,000 from his 2017 campaign fund and using $3,500 of that to pay personal debts through one of his staffers.
“Elected officials are entrusted to protect and serve, but Mr. McLaughlin allegedly violated that trust by using his campaign funds as a personal piggybank,” said James, who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor. “New Yorkers should have every confidence that the money they donate to their preferred candidates will fund that candidate’s campaign, not personal debts or expenses. My office will continue to root out corruption at every level of government and go after those who abuse public trust for private benefit.”
McLaughlin was released Wednesday without making a plea in the case. Leading up to the court appearance, McLaughlin had maintained his innocence through an attorney.
A partner with Tully Rinckey law firm said there were many unknowns.
“After reading that press release, I really had more questions than answers as an attorney,” Leslie Silva said. “Do we have evidence this loan existed? Is there a promissory note? Is there a loan instrument? How do we know that it was personal? What did he use it for?”
That’s what the state will need to prove as the case moves forward, Silva said.
She believes based on the grand larceny charge, prosecutors are eyeing a public officers law that results in removal from office if a public official is convicted of a felony.
“What his team is going to be looking to do is to negotiate that down to a misdemeanor, if anything,” Silva said. “And to try to save his seat, I would imagine is one of their priorities.”