BRONX SUPREME COURT — A Bronx Supreme Court justice ruled Friday that City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo should be included on September’s primary election ballot because there is no evidence that she participated in the alleged fraud that invalidated hundreds of her petition signatures.
Still, State Supreme Court Justice John Carter said Arroyo’s “wholesale failure to supervise the petition-gathering process” was “clearly negligent and troubling,” adding that voters should consider the “manner in which this campaign has been managed” when determining each candidate’s “fitness for this high office.”
City Council candidates must submit petitions with at least 450 valid voter signatures to earn a spot on the ballot.
After the incumbent Arroyo turned in 3,339 signatures in July (one volume of petitions was withdrawn because the forms did not include Arroyo’s name), a challenger filed a lawsuit claiming that the petitions were “permeated with fraud,” and that Arroyo was aware of this, so all the forms should be invalidated.
The challenger, Julio Pabón, who is running against Arroyo for the 17th District City Council seat in the Mott Haven and Hunts Point area, called attention to petition forms where all the signatures were in the same handwriting, and others where celebrities — including Derek Jeter and model Kate Moss — were listed as residents of buildings in the district where they do not actually live.
The city Board of Elections invalidated 1,924 signatures for reasons other than fraud, such as signatories living out of the district or not being registered to vote.
A special court-assigned referee then tossed another 684 signatures collected by three paid Arroyo workers because they appeared to have engaged in fraud, such as forging signatures or fabricating names. A line-by-line review by the referee invalidated another 87 signatures.
This left Arroyo 640 valid signatures — enough to get on the ballot.
But Pabón’s attorney argued that those remaining signatures should also be excluded because fraud had “permeated” the entire petitioning process and Arroyo had been so active in the process and engaged with the workers that she must or should have been aware of the problems.
Arroyo countered that she had no knowledge of the questionable signatures or the workers’ behavior before filing the petitions — she testified in court that she could not even “pick [the workers] out of a lineup,” though she admitted to signing and handing over their checks.
Arroyo said that she had not become aware of the workers’ alleged fraud until after the petitions were filed and Pabón spotlighted the suspect signatures. After that, Arroyo’s team reviewed the forms and, finding apparent forgeries, filed a criminal complaint against the workers with the Bronx District Attorney.
The special referee, John D’Alessandro, called Arroyo’s claim “that she never so much as glanced at the petitions until after they had been filed” to be largely “improbable,” and said that she and her campaign staff were “negligible in the extreme in their supervision.”
But even as Arroyo “completely abdicated her ultimate responsibility of ensuring that legitimate petitions were filed on her behalf,” there is no proof that she knew the petitions were fraudulent when she filed them, D’Alessandro concluded.
Carter agreed with the referee’s report and, on Friday, ruled that Arroyo’s remaining valid petitions should be admitted, thus allowing her a spot on the ballot.
In a statement on Friday, Pabón’s lawyer thanked the justice and referee for a “fair and impartial trial,” but said his client planned to appeal the ruling.
“We respectfully disagree with certain of the legal conclusions reached in today's decision and we look forward to taking the matter up with the Appellate Division,” said the lawyer, Donald Dunn Jr.