A lawyer who chairs the Board of Ethics of one of Westchester’s largest municipalities is facing charges for allegedly attempting to coerce and threaten a potential political opponent, the District Attorney announced.
Gregory Cannata, a lawyer in Mount Vernon who is the chair of the city Board of Ethics, who had hoped to make a Democratic primary run for City Council in June has been arrested and charged with attempted coercion after threatening a political opponent who challenged signatures on his nominating petitions.
Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah said that the complaint against Cannata outlined a series of actions taken by Cannata against Council Member Janice Duarte after her campaign challenged signatures on Cannata’s nominating petitions for the June 22 City Council Democratic primary last year.
The Westchester Board of Elections ultimately determined that Cannata’s petitions did not have the required number of valid signatures, and he will therefore not appear on the ballot.
It is alleged that Cannata reached out to Duarte on April 9 last year regarding his objection to the petition challenges, at which point he allegedly left her a voicemail stating “I just want you to understand that there – that there are consequences.”
Rocah said that later that same day, Duarte recorded a phone conversation with Cannata in which he stated that, if Duarte’s campaign did not withdraw objections to signatures on his petitions, “it will be my singular focus between now and June 22 to work against you individually.”
Cannata also allegedly said, “I am going to be ruthless with you. I will be sending out weekly emails, blasting you every chance I get,” and “So if you want to take that risk then, you know, then, then, then proceed the way you’re proceeding.”
After the phone conversations, Cannata sent to Duarte a sample of the email he intended to send to Mount Vernon voters, which was sharply critical of Duarte’s actions while serving on the City Council.
On April 11, Cannata sent a text message to Duarte stating that “the first letter will go out at 4 (p.m.) tomorrow if the objection is not withdrawn,” with him following through with the threat the following day.
Rocah noted that Duarte told an investigator that she feared financial impacts from Cannata’s actions, and was also concerned for her physical safety.
“Once again, Mount Vernon has been touched by political scandal, this time in our own race for City Council,” officials from Mount Vernon Forward posted on social media. “As a coalition dedicated to ending dirty politics and infighting in our city, the Mount Vernon Forward team condemns the tactics of threats and intimidation uncovered by the District Attorney.
“Although we are opponents in our primary, we stand in solidarity with our fellow Democratic colleague Councilwoman Duarte at this time. No one should be attacked by bullying and attempted intimidation. Mr. Cannata should resign immediately from the Board of Ethics.
After calling for Cannata’s resignation, officials said that they are “calling on all the candidates for public office in Mount Vernon to adhere to better ethical standards and to desist from attacks, false charges, threats, and disinformation.”
“We also thank District Attorney Rocah for her office's serious attention to this case, and to our city's elections,” they added. “As we continue this campaign, we're recommitting to positive messages aimed at a better future for everyone. Let's move Mount Vernon Forward together.”
Cannata was arraigned in Mount Vernon City Court on Tuesday, April 20, where he pleaded not guilty.
“Politics is politics, but, as charged, Mr. Cannata’s threats against Ms. Duarte crossed the line from competitive to criminal under New York’s coercion statute when he tried to intimidate her to drop legally permissible challenges to signatures on his nominating petitions,” Rocah said in a statement.
“Mr. Cannata could have availed himself of a legal process to object to those challenges, but instead he turned to threats and intimidation, which we believe amount to attempted coercion.”
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