Leslie Holmes sentencing postponed; courts closed due to COVID-19

Onondaga County Court Judge, the Honorable Stephen J. Dougherty will sentence former Granby Republican Committee Chairman Leslie Holmes sometime in the future. Exactly when is still unknown. Randy Pellis/Oswego County News

GRANBY — Leslie Holmes, 76, of Granby, former head of Granby’s Republican Committee, was scheduled to be sentenced April 23 for an election law misdemeanor he pleaded guilty to Feb. 24. But that didn’t happen, and when it will remains an unknown.

Holmes was originally charged in December with seven counts of the class D felony “criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree” and one count of the class E felony “offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree” for his role in submitting allegedly forged and otherwise deceptive designating petitions on behalf of his wife, Cheryl, a member of Granby’s town board running for re-election.

Cheryl, 71, for her part in the scheme, was charged with four counts including one count of the same class E felony Leslie was charged with, one count of the class A misdemeanor “making a punishable false written statement,” one count of the unclassified misdemeanor of “misconduct in relation to petitions,” and one count of the unclassified misdemeanor “in connection with, primary elections, caucuses, enrollment in political parties, committees, and conventions.”

The Holmes were prosecuted by the NY State Attorney General’s office and were offered a plea deal Jan. 21 reducing Leslie’s charges down to one count of offering a false instrument for filing in the second degree, a reduction to an A misdemeanor from the original E felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. The seven felony counts were dropped altogether. The plea deal allowed Cheryl Holmes to plead guilty to one count of misconduct in relation to election petitions, an unclassified misdemeanor, in satisfaction of all charges.

Onondaga County Court Judge Stephen Dougherty granted the Holmes a 19-day extension on Feb. 5 to take or leave the plea deal. On Feb. 24, they accepted the deal and pleaded guilty to their separate, reduced, single misdemeanor charges.

As a result, Cheryl Holmes is expected to be sentenced to one year’s probation and will be required to resign her seat on the Granby Town Council by March 2, which she did. She is also required to resign her position with the Town of Granby Republican Committee, pay a $500 fine, perform 100 hours of community service, and cease involvement in any political activity other than registering and voting during the term of her probation.

Leslie Holmes is expected to receive a sentence of three years’ probation and will be required to resign his position on the Town of Granby Republican Committee, pay a $1,000 fine, perform 100 hours of community service, and cease involvement in any political activity other than registering and voting during the term of his probation.

Official sentencing was set for April 23.

Then came COVID-19. Robert Gallamore, of Oswego, is Leslie Holmes’ attorney.

“The courts are closed. Nothing’s going on. Nobody’s getting sentenced. It’s not going to happen,” said Gallamore recently.

“Who knows when? The only criminal things they’re doing is some arraignments, they might issue orders of protection, but nobody’s getting sentenced. There’s no trial. Everything’s off until who knows when, sometime in June. I have no idea when he’ll be sentenced. Even for the courts to take action, there’s all these regulations, like you can only have a certain number of people in the courtroom, they have to be a certain distance apart, you know, all the COVID-19 stuff, and maybe in Oswego, our courtrooms wouldn’t be big enough. I mean, how do you do it without 10 people. Even if it’s just the two lawyers, the defendant, the judge, the bailiff, you get to 10 pretty quick. So, they don’t really know what they’re going to do. If you want me to guess, all my criminal stuff, they just told me nothing’s happening until the end of May. I don’t have a specific date on Holmes yet, but even when they try and do stuff, they’re still going to run into problems with in-person appearances because of these rules. There are things happening virtually where you appear by Skype, but I don’t think you can sentence anybody that way, and you can’t do trials. The only things that are going on is they’re just calling you up saying, ‘Oh, can you get rid of Jones versus Smith? So, basically, I don’t know when it’s going to be.”

Criminal justice reforms, enacted by the state legislature in January, eliminated cash bail for most crimes and certainly for a non-violent misdemeanor such as that to which Holmes pleaded guilty. He is certainly not sitting in the Oswego County Correctional Facility awaiting sentencing. And so, while those charged with more serious and violent crimes may be held at the Correctional Facility longer than would normally have been the case, for the many others waiting to be sentenced for lesser crimes, Gallamore sees that wait as not much of an inconvenience or harm.

“The criminal defendants aren’t really at a huge disadvantage,” he said. “It’s the family court people who are in the middle of custody fights that are really getting kind of screwed. That’s the big disadvantage is somebody’s keeping the kid, and you can’t go to court.

“Or, you can’t evict anybody,” Gallamore continued. “You can’t foreclose on anybody. If you own some properties in Oswego County, and these are not usually like megacorporations, like some guy who’s a fireman who owns a couple houses, you can’t get the people out if they’re not paying. They’re just there forever. Or, and this is rare, there are people around who write mortgages on a little house out in the country somewhere, and somebody might self-finance it. If they stop paying, you can’t get them out. The criminal cases, I’m not sure how many defendants really care whether they get sentenced now or later.”

Any sort of criminal behavior or contact with police while awaiting sentencing or while on probation may be severely frowned upon by the court and may result in a much harsher sentence. Gallamore doesn’t see that as much of a possibility in Leslie Holmes’ case.

“The Holmes’ are never going to re-offend,” he said. “They’re never going to get violent on probation.”

That is likely true, but the woman who was mainly responsible for bringing Leslie and Cheryl Holmes to justice isn’t concerned with the unlikelihood of a probation violation, she’s upset with the whole plea deal that knocked the Holmes’ charges down so radically.

Ninety-seven-year-old former Granby Town Councilwoman Rose Anthony persevered for 15 months, searching to no avail for help from numerous elected county officials and the county Board of Elections, before, upon the recommendation of the newly-elected Oswego County Sheriff, Don Hilton, requesting NY State Attorney General Letitia James investigate the allegedly fraudulent designating petitions for Cheryl Holmes 2018 re-election campaign.

Cheryl Holmes had submitted 129 signatures on eight pages of designating petitions to the Oswego County Board of Elections. Rose Anthony claimed the petitions included multiple duplicate signatures, 14 or so signatures of people who definitely didn’t live in Granby, and the signatures of a number of dead people.

“If you count every legal signature on the whole petition,” Rose Anthony said shortly after Cheryl and Leslie Holmes were arrested by state police Dec. 20, “she has 41 legal signatures. She needed 97.”

After Leslie and Cheryl Holmes accepted the plea deal agreement’s vastly-reduced charges, Rose Anthony expressed her disappointment.

“I was hoping for more,” she said. “I think they should have gave her a longer term of being out of politics. I don’t think she should be in politics, and I hope they stay out now, because they’re not honest people.

“They’re lucky,” she said. “They got off easy.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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