BUFFALO, N.Y. — New Yorkers have seen this before.
Marc Panepinto pled guilty to a misdemeanor federal charge on Thursday to become the latest in a long line of elected officials who've been criminally convicted.
But there's something else that should also be familiar: politicos reaching into their campaign coffers to pay for their criminal legal defense.
2 On Your Side reviewed the filings of Panepinto's state senate campaign fund. The one-term, Buffalo Democrat surprised political observers back in March of 2016 when he announced he would not run for re-election.
But the day Panepinto denied he was under investigation, he already knew he was in trouble.
The federal plea deal outlined Panepinto's crime, promising benefit for political activity. The document notes that months earlier, on January 7, 2016 in a New York City hotel, he "made a series of unwanted, verbal and physical sexual advances" toward a female member of his staff. Rejected in his advances, Panepinto later offered to buy the female staffer's silence about the matter with cash, a job, or both.
A short time later, campaign records indicate there were a series of payments to the Albany office of law firm Greenberg Taurig. The firm was paid nearly $13,000 over ten months.
In April of 2017, Panepinto's campaign fund started making payments to the law firm of noted Buffalo defense Terry Connors. Connors tells 2 On Your Side that the three payments of $28,754.82 were for both campaign related work and for Panepinto's criminal defense.
In January, Panepinto picked up the services of another elite-level defense attorney, Herbert Greenman. Reached by phone today, Greenman declined to say whether he was being paid in campaign cash.
Records show no payments to Greenman or his law firm, but the next round of campaign finance reports are due in July.
Should campaign donations be used like a legal defense fund? Susan Lerner of Common Cause NY says, no.
"If you’re accused of sexual harassment, if you’re accused of public corruption you can use your campaign money. That’s not what your supporters gave you the money for,” Lerner said.