Return home

First district case continues with more testimonies and residency concerns

Thomas Caputo
Staff writer
Posted 5/26/23

Day two of the trial for Utica’s first district election began Friday with witness testimonies and additional residency concerns.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

First district case continues with more testimonies and residency concerns


UTICA — Day two of the trial for Utica’s first district election began Friday with witness testimonies and additional residency concerns.

First District Councilor Katie Aiello filed a lawsuit on April 24 alleging signatures on her Democratic opponent Mirela Pekmez’s petition to get on the ballot were forged and did not match up with the authentic signatures of constituents from the district. Pekmez filed a counter measure on May 2 alleging Aiello resides in Herkimer and should be declared ineligible to be a candidate for the Utica Common Council.

During the first day of the trial — last Friday — Pekmez swore under oath she lived within the first district and not at an address outside the district listed on a DBA (Doing Business As) she filed last year. She also testified she did not forge the signatures she collected and she witnessed every signature being signed by each person who signed the petition. Three petitioners who worked alongside Pekmez to collect signatures also attested to the same.

Day 2

Friday morning, the second day of the trial, Russell Pelli, fiance to Pekmez and a key witness the plaintiff has been looking to cross examine, was subpoenaed just 30 minutes before court began, as he could not be found previously. Pelli, however, did not show up to court and was found in contempt.

Several witnesses were put on the stand throughout the day whose signatures were found on Pekmez’s petition. Many of the witnesses stated that they signed their names and names of family members at their residence, with their permission. A couple witnesses swore that they did not sign the petition, with one person stating they have not been petitioned by Pekmez or her team, and another person who spoke with Pekmez through their Ring doorbell camera and told them to “put their name down” for them in their absence.

During the lunch break, words spoken between Pekmez and a subpoenaed witness lead to what Jeffrey Bochiechio — Aiello’s legal representative — considered as witness interference. Bochiechio claimed that their witness was “told to leave” by Pekmez. Gustave DeTraglia — Pekmez’s legal representative — explained that the witness was missing the funeral of a family member due to having to appear in court and that it was a mixup of words.

Aiello’s residency came into play with Pekmez’s cross petition stating that she does not reside within the district, or even the city. Aiello has listed her address as 4 Cottage Place, a residence she shares with her ex-husband and that is owned and located behind the St. Volodymyr the Great Ukrainian Catholic Church. Both legal representatives questioned Michael Bundz, the pastor of the church and landlord to Aiello, on the legitimacy behind her residency there.

After the second day of the trial, representatives from both parties still seem pleased with how the trial is going.

Weighing in

“There’s a lot of evidence that Katie Aiello does not live at 4 Cottage Place, that she used as her residence so she could be qualified for common council,” DeTraglia said. “It’s a one bedroom house from everything that I heard and in my opinion, her ex-husband lives there only, although she paid the rent for him because she was helping him get on his feet.”

“We had six witnesses who testified specifically that they did not sign Ms. Pekmez’s petition when Ms. Pekmez swore under oath that she witnessed every single person before her sign her petition and signed a sworn oath, and that is obviously not the case given that they testified that they didn’t do that,” Bochiechio said.

Originally scheduled for two days, this case will extend to a third day and will go back in session on Wednesday, May 31 at 9 a.m. at the Oneida County Courthouse, 200 Elizabeth St. in Utica.


1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • mrhuther

    Ms Aiello's residency is a legal non-issue since the state courts have interpreted "residency" very broadly: in Bressler v Holt-Harris, an Albany politician was allowed to claim residence at an apartment paid for by his law firm which (by his own admission) he only ate & slept in once in seven years. In Willkie v. Delaware County Board of Elections, the courts affirmed that multiple parties who only spent weekends and vacations in a district (otherwise living in NYC) had the right to claim electoral residence there. By these standards, a woman who pays for an apartment in a district she is in virtually every day, running a coffee shop, has every right to claim residency there, notwithstanding Utica's conservative power-brokers.

    By contrast, the laws around forgery, possession of a forged instrument, and perjury are much clearer. Ms Pekmez & her associates would do well to consider of it.

    5 days ago Report this