BUFFALO — Former Dunkirk City Mayor Richard L. Frey will spend six months confined to his home for defrauding his political campaign and his supporters.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara handed down the sentence Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Buffalo. In addition to home confinement, Frey must pay $54,361.30 in restitution to everyone he stole money from; he will also spend two years on probation after his house arrest.
During the sentencing, Arcara pointed out Frey faced a number of months in prison, which could have been where the 85-year-old Dunkirk resident spent the last moments of his life. However, a number of factors went into Arcara’s decision, including Frey’s poor health, his wife’s poor health and his military service as an infantryman during the Korean War.
“I have a spot for people who served our country,” Arcara told Frey before announcing the sentence. “You did it and you did it well.”
Frey earned a Purple Heart for his combat duty during the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge in 1951 — one of the bloodiest parts of the conflict. He was shot in the stomach and still has shrapnel embedded in his back and some other parts of his body.
Cheryl Meyers-Buth, Frey’s attorney, mentioned during the sentencing that her client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his service, and he did seek treatment through the Veterans Affairs hospital. He has struggled with the after-effects of the war, she added, which likely contributed to his stealing of money from friends and businesses. Frey used much of the money to gamble, and Meyers-Buth commented he may have went to casinos to escape his demons.
“If you go into a casino, a lot of times you see seniors, and sometimes people like Mr. Frey, who suffer from PTSD or other depressive disorders, will sit in front of a slot machine for hours at a time and just zone out, and I think that’s a lot of what this was,” Meyers-Buth told the media after the sentencing. “The shame of it is that the money he got from mostly friends that he used inappropriately, I think they would’ve given him anyway if he would’ve been able to be open with them about what was going on, but like so many of our military, he just can’t talk about it and just viewed it as a sign of weakness personally and didn’t disclose it to them, and I think that’s where he has his biggest regret.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Fabian and Department of Justice Trial Attorney Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, who handled the case, stated Frey had substantial personal debt when he was the city of Dunkirk mayor from January 2002 until January 2012. From January 2003 to June 2012, Frey devised and executed a scheme to defraud the co-owners of the Clarion Hotel, Marina & Conference Center and the owner of Fieldbrook Foods, among others, by inducing them to make contributions to his mayoral and other political campaigns.
After receiving checks from these individuals, Frey, rather than depositing the funds into a campaign or official account, simply spent them for his own personal benefit.
In addition, Frey failed to report or disclose the contributions on his campaign disclosure reports, which is required of local candidates for public office.
Frey pleaded guilty to wire fraud in February.
Meyers-Buth made it clear that her client did not steal taxpayer dollars. Arcara wrestled with enhancing the guilty plea and classifying it as an abuse of public trust, but ultimately decided against it. He said it was an “extremely close call” since Frey was running for office while obtaining the money, but he was giving Frey “the benefit of the doubt.”
“This wasn’t a bribery or a public corruption case; this wasn’t a case where the mayor was acting in his official capacity in terms of representing constituents,” Meyers-Buth stressed to the media. “This was Dick Frey individually, talking to a friend, saying, ‘Can you give me some money for my political campaign?’ And I think that’s where the subtle line was drawn.”
The federal government recommended a sentence of eight months under house arrest, while Meyers-Buth initially asked Arcara to consider a non-incarcerative, probationary sentence. Arcara waived Meyers-Buth’s recommendation aside, noting today’s climate of political corruption and the fact that Frey pulled his scheme off over a long period of time and stole a significant amount of money.
“Leaders accept responsibility; they don’t make excuses,” Sullivan told Arcara in bringing up the government’s recommended sentence.
Arcara stipulated that during his home detention, Frey will be permitted to go out into the community when necessary to care for his ailing wife. That includes going to the drug store and the grocery store.
Frey is allowed to appeal the sentence, but Meyers-Buth noted her client will respect Arcara’s decision.
“He thinks Judge Arcara is a very fair man and he appreciated Judge Arcara’s remarks,” she stated. “Judge Arcara had served in the military (and) he told us he had been stationed in Korea for 13 months and really had an affinity for what it might’ve been like to have served your country over there. So, no matter what the sentence would have been, Mr. Frey would not have taken issue with the judge.”
Meyers-Buth told Arcara during the sentencing that Frey feels publicly humiliated and ashamed of his actions. She added he feels he let a lot of people — including the community — down.
No character reference letters were submitted to the court because he did not feel it was appropriate to seek them out after what he did, she went on to say.
However, that is not to say Frey didn’t have support within the community.
“I was taken aback because I’ve never had a case where, without any sort of solicitation, we had people calling our office wanting to know how they could help him, wanting to repay him for something he might’ve done for them years prior, people offering to pay the restitution for him, understanding what he and his wife have meant to the community and wanting to be supportive,” Meyers-Buth relayed to the media. “So, it was very unusual in that regard.”
Frey — a Republican — served for three terms as Dunkirk’s mayor, the first term being two years. He was defeated in the 2011 election by former Mayor Anthony J. Dolce.
The sentencing is the culmination of a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Adam S. Cohen, and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Brad Geary.
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