FBI questions Zellner over shake down of judicial candidates

Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner was questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigations last week. The nation’s leading law enforcement agency for public corruption cases is interested in a 2014 incident in which Zellner was widely perceived to be extorting payments from judicial candidates, ostensibly to fund party electioneering efforts.

But those candidates had no chance of winning the party’s nomination. Zellner and Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward long conspired with the local Republican Party to cross endorse four judicial candidates, rendering the actual election largely useless.

Zellner, as planned, gave the nomination to Ward, who is now a State Supreme court Justice making $136,700 per year. That’s a little more than he was making as Election Commissioner at $105,000. Former Chairman Len Lenihan (Zellner’s mentor) took the Commissioner’s post.

Zellner has long railed against supporting politicians who were being investigated.

The party’s reorganization meeting is scheduled for Sunday, where it was expected that Zellner would be reelected to a two year term. But many party stalwarts have called for a delay of the meeting, because the FBI’s questions strike at the crux of the ruling faction’s style of governance.

James Eagan, a powerful party official, and election law expert Peter Reese, have called for the party’s reorganization to be delayed in light of the Chairman’s recent legal developments.

Reese, a retired attorney with an engineering degree from the University at Buffalo, is being actively floated for the chairmanship.

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