When Marc Panepinto was charged with a Class D felony in 2001, he quickly plead the charge of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument to a lesser misdemeanor, involving tampering with petitions. The plea deal allowed Panepinto to avoid indictment by a Grand Jury and a felony conviction at trial — which could have prevented him from voting and running for political office in the future.
Many observers have asked how Panepinto was privileged enough to be extended such a gracious plea deal and many suspected it was because of his close political connections.
In court documents, Panepinto’s attorney repeatedly offered his motivation for committing the fraud as a mitigating factor.
It turns out that he produced the petitions because he wanted to impress then Mayor Anthony Masiello, in an effort to get his brother a job as a firefighter. He figured that providing the Mayor’s reelection campaign with lots of signatures would impress him and would be rewarded with patronage perks.
Some are wondering how such a material fact of the case could be offered as a mitigating circumstance. Shouldn’t election fraud be aggravated when it’s motivated for financial gain?
His attorney, Joel Daniels, writes to the judge that Panepinto had injured his arm and tried to circulate petitions:
Shockingly, the Mayor came to Panepinto’s defense and penned a letter of support to the judge, on official government letterhead:
Some observers presume that Panepinto was let off with a relatively brief suspension of his license to practice law and a mere $500 fine because of his entrenched involvement in local politics. It seems they have reason to be suspicious.
They say that someone without his connections would have likely been indicted by a Grand Jury and then convicted of a Class D felony at trial. He should have faced jail time and potential disbarment, they posit.
Mr. Panepinto is refusing to debate Senator Al Coppola.
They will face each other in a Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, September 9th.