The federal trial of former Rochester Housing Authority Chairman George Moses, when boiled down to the essence of its criminal allegations, will focus on accusations of the theft of nearly $200,000 of taxpayer money.
That’s the simple version. But it’s how Moses is alleged to have used that money that makes the federal trial, scheduled to start with jury selection Tuesday, sound like a combination of public corruption scandal and daytime soap opera.
Prosecutors have alleged that Moses illicitly used money designated for an arm of the Housing Authority and for a neighborhood group, North East Area Development, or NEAD, that he headed. Some of the NEAD money was spent in support of a Canadian girlfriend, prosecutors allege.
Defense lawyers fought unsuccessfully to keep direct mention of Moses’ former paramour out of the trial — defense lawyers have admitted to the affair in court papers — but U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford decided to allow the testimony.
“Evidence that (Moses) had a girlfriend in Canada is also probative of his
motive for allegedly misappropriating NEAD’s funds to travel to Toronto for no legitimate
business purpose,” Wolford wrote in a recent ruling. “In other words, the fact that (Moses) had a significant, secret reason for wanting to be in Canada for substantial amounts of time makes the government’s allegations more probable.”
Defense lawyers wanted the Canadian woman referred to as simply a friend, but Wolford rejected that request. She ruled that Moses’ romantic relation with the woman could clarify for jurors why he may have spent money for her, including trying to help her with an immigration case.
That allegation is one of many likely to be part of the testimony in a trial expected to last one to two months. There are claims of pilfered money used for a cruise, for a Knicks game, and even for purchases of nutrition shakes and supplements for his wife’s membership in a multilevel marketing business.
The pretrial exchanges between the legal teams have been constant, with frequent disagreements over whether federal prosecutors have adequately and fully delineated the criminal charges, or whether the allegations are too vague in some cases, and even over whether the jury pool should be restricted to individuals vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Attorneys were not available for comment Monday, but have typically declined to comment about the case.
Wolford has said she would prefer a fully vaccinated jury, a stance shared by Moses’ attorneys.
Frederick Hafetz, one of Moses’ attorneys, is 82 years old, thus part of an age group considered susceptible to more serious health effects form the virus.
The defense team has said it will waive any possible challenge to limiting the jury to vaccinated people.
Prosecutors say they worry that, even with the defense consent to the waiver, the limits on who can and cannot be on the jury could lead to a challenge of a conviction. A federal jury comes from Monroe and outlying counties, and Monroe tends to have a higher percentage of vaccinated people than the other counties.
Similarly, black residents have a lower vaccination rate, prosecutors note, so the jury pool could be limited geographically and racially if vaccines were mandated.
Defining George Moses
Whoever ends up deciding Moses’ fate, the jurors will hear conflicting versions of the former chairman of Rochester Housing Authority, or RHA.
Wolford will allow testimony of Moses’ work in a struggling northeast Rochester neighborhood, where he worked to bring better supermarket and educational opportunities for its poor residents. And prosecutors may not challenge the fact that Moses did work that benefitted the people in those neighborhoods.
But, they’ll argue, Moses also decided to steal some of the tax dollars coming to both RHA and NEAD. Court documents and earlier guilty pleas from individuals alleged to have criminally partnered with Moses — in one case a contractor alleged to have paid kickbacks to Moses — have revealed the scope of the prosecutorial evidence of wrongdoing.
Among the expected witnesses is former City Councilman Adam McFadden, who admitted that he was the primary beneficiary of a no-bid contract in 2015 from Rochester Housing Charities, which is a subsidiary of the RHA.
Moses allegedly steered that contract to McFadden.
Former RHA Executive Secretary Janis White also has pleaded guilty to fraud, alleging that she conspired with Moses to bilk taxpayers through fraudulent and inflated heating and air conditioning contracts. White may also testify at trial.
Prosecutors have identified more than 100 possible witnesses for the trial. They also have more than 2,000 exhibits they may introduce at trial, including emails, receipts, texts, and bank account records.
The alleged expenses
Moses’ defense may claim to jurors that prosecutors are twisting the facts of some of Moses’ expenses, and there is a reason for using the funds as he did.
Among the expenses prosecutors allege to be illicit and illegal are a Carnival cruise vacation, spa services on a Royal Caribbean cruise, purchase of four firearms, a family YMCA membership, a National Rifle Association membership, essential oils and other health products for a multilevel marketing business for his wife, dental expenses, tickets to a New York Knicks basketball game at Madison Square Garden, repairs and items for his personal vehicle, amusement park accommodations, and a Netflix subscription.
Moses is also accused of lying to FBI agents and filing false tax returns.
Jury selection for the trial is expected to last at least two days.
Contact Gary Craig at email@example.com or at 585-258-2479. Follow him on Twitter at gcraig1.