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Ex-undersheriff’s trial starts today

MALONE – Jury selection is scheduled to begin today at the Franklin County Courthouse in the trial of a former county undersheriff accused of ordering a deputy to follow county legislators and target them for drunken driving charges as political retaliation.

Patrick White was indicted in December of last year on three misdemeanor counts of official misconduct. The charges stem from allegations made nearly two years ago by then-county sheriff’s Deputy Luke Cromp, now a patrolman for the Saranac Lake Police Department.

Cromp claimed White ordered him to follow three county legislators – Gordon Crossman of Malone, Tim Burpoe of Saranac Lake and Guy “Tim” Smith of Fort Covington – and to try to arrest them for drunk driving because they had “taken actions that were not favorable” to Sheriff Kevin Mulverhill’s agenda.

The trial has political implications since Mulverhill, who has denied any involvement in the alleged scheme, is now running against Billy Jones, chairman of the county legislature, for the state Assembly seat held by Janet Duprey.

Cromp said he was given the legislators’ license plate numbers and descriptions of their vehicles. He would follow them to a bar-restaurant in Malone where they would go to eat after their county meetings.

In August 2013, Cromp tailed and arrested one of the legislators, Smith, on a charge of driving while ability impaired. The charge was later reduced to a traffic infraction, and Smith paid a fine.

White has denied giving Cromp a directive to target legislators. He’s implied that his deputies were acting on drunk-driving complaints his office received.

“If we have any complaints that come in from outside of the facility, then they are given to the deputy sheriffs, and the deputy sheriffs resolve those complaints,” White told the Enterprise after the allegations surfaced.

Alex Lesyk, a SUNY Canton law professor, former Franklin County public defender and former chief assistant district attorney in St. Lawrence County, has been investigating the allegations against White as a special prosecutor since October 2014. His work has cost the county $12,849 in legal fees as of the end of June, according to county Manager Donna Kissane.

Lesyk said Tuesday that the trial is the culmination of months of work.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of witnesses,” he said. “There have been grand jury presentments, a lot of legal research. Quite a bit of work goes into an indictment.”

Lesyk said he’s prepared to call as many as eight or nine witnesses, “but it might be pared down a little bit, depending on what the witnesses say.” That list will likely include Cromp, other current and former sheriff’s department employees, county legislators and possibly Mulverhill.

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to disclose that at this point, so I’d rather not,” Lesyk said when asked if Mulverhill is on his witness list. “I know the judge will disclose it (this) morning as soon as jury selection begins.”

The case is being handled by St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome Richards because Franklin County Court Judge Robert Main Jr. recused himself from it.

Because the case involves misdemeanor charges, the jury will consist of six people and one alternate instead of the typical 12 jurors and two alternates for a felony trial. Even though there’s a smaller number of jurors needed, Lesyk said jury selection could take longer because “the witness list is going to be people who a lot of (potential jurors) know or at least have heard of.”

Jury selection was scheduled to begin at 8:15 a.m today. Once it’s complete, Lesyk said he doesn’t expect the testimony of his witnesses to take any longer than two days.

White is being represented by Malone attorney Peter Dumas, who didn’t respond to phone messages Tuesday for comment on the trial. White was suspended pending the outcome of Lesyk’s investigation and was not reappointed after his term expired in December 2014.

In September 2014, after Cromp reported his allegations to then-county Manager Tom Leitz, Mulverhill suspended Cromp and accused him of letting now-convicted murderer Angela Ball too far out of his sight while a psychiatrist interviewed her at the county jail in Malone. Cromp claimed the suspension was retaliation for the claims he made against the sheriff’s department, which Mulverhill denied. Cromp was later cleared of the disciplinary charges and reinstated, although he left the sheriff’s department to take a full-time job with the Saranac Lake Police Department.

Cromp subsequently filed a civil suit against the sheriff’s department, Mulverhill and White over his suspension. The county, at the recommendation of its insurance carrier, agreed to settle the suit in May of this year for $45,000; it paid a $15,000 deductible.