Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin was arrested Wednesday on allegations he stole $3,500 in campaign funds to pay off personal debts, according to state Attorney General Letitia James.
New York State Attorney General Tish James alleges McLaughlin stole thousands of dollars in campaign contributions while serving in the state Assembly. James, a Democrat, says around the time McLaughlin was elected County Executive in November 2017, he withdrew $5,000 from his campaign fund and directed a portion of that money be given to a staffer to pay off personal debts.
McLaughlin was indicted on two felony charges. McLaughlin’s attorney Benjamin Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told WAMC earlier in the week that the Republican denies wrongdoing and looks forward to his day in court.
Derrick Hogan is a partner at Tully Rinckey law firm and is not involved in the case.
“The allegations are that he used $3,500 in campaign funds to settle a debt with a staffer, He’s been charged with third degree grand larceny, as well as offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree,” said Hogan. “So by charging him with third degree grand larceny, the allegation is that he allegedly stole more than $3,000. And it looks like in this instance, it’s $3,500.”
James says a conviction would mean McLaughlin’s automatic removal from office.
Hogan says the charges against McLaughlin are “very serious.”
“Obviously, you’re looking at a felony charge. I think it’s a little more serious for Mr. McLaughlin than maybe the actual, the regular lay person, because he is an executive, he is a politician, and he is held to a certain higher standard as well,” Hogan said. “And that could affect his ability, with a felony conviction, it could affect his ability to continue to remain in a legislative or a, you know, executive position, or any kind of future position.”
McLaughlin was arraigned in Rensselaer County court and released on his own recognizance. Grand Larceny in the Third Degree carries a maximum sentence of more than 2 years to 7 years in prison.
Rensselaer County Legislature Democratic Minority Leader Peter Grimm says McLaughlin should resign.
“In light of the many things that have been happening, you know, particularly in Rensselaer County of late, with the ballot harvesting, voter fraud, voter suppression, the public trust has been compromised tremendously,” Grimm said. “I think that elected officials, you know, are, are expected to be at higher standards. And I think the right thing to do, while being investigated, for such serious, you know, offense, is to step down. You know, it’s what the public deserves, I mean, on that, you can say, you know, he just come off of a win, you know, a very good win in Rensselaer County as executive, but that doesn’t mean that, you know, elected officials get a pass. So I think it’s the right thing to do. Step down. I mean, there’s going to be an investigation. This is also is from charges that, you know, happened four years ago, I’ve already had calls from people saying ‘how can we be sure what he’s been doing in the past four years?’ With all those questions out there, I think the people of Rensselaer County deserve a little bit more.”
McLaughlin won a second four-year term last month. Troy Mayor Patrick Madden, a Democrat, is the brother of McLaughlin’s predecessor as county executive, Kathy Jimino. He was asked about the charges by WAMC News Wednesday:
“It’s hard to form an opinion because, you know, there’s so much from one side or the other side at this point in time,” said Madden. “I don’t know anything. Even what I read in the paper is, you know, the result of leaks so it may not be accurate. So at this point I’m just gonna withhold judgement.”
McLaughlin did not respond to a request for comment.