In the three years that Shawn Morse has been mayor of a small textile city in upstate New York, he’s been dogged by a staggering array of allegations.
That he assaulted his teenage daughter.
That he beat his ex-wife.
That he choked a former girlfriend.
That he had a no-show security job.
That he used a campaign coffer as a slush fund.
On Thursday, Morse faced his first criminal charges, when the FBI arrested him on an indictment that he used political funds to finance vacations and home repairs.
Morse, an ex-firefighter and former Democratic Party boss elected as mayor of Cohoes in 2015, pleaded not guilty to the seven counts in the indictment.
He’s previously denied the other allegations of wrongdoing although he did issue a vague apology just before he launched his re-election campaign in January:
“As many of you know, 2018 was a tough year personally for me and my family. And there were times when my behavior, attitude, and words could have been much better. As a result, I want to apologize, from the bottom of my heart, to all those I hurt, including the amazing citizens of Cohoes.”
It looks like 2019 won’t be much better.
The indictment unsealed in federal court for the Northern District of New York accuses Morse, 51, of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and lying to the FBI. He was released pending trial. Reached by phone, Morse’s attorney said he was not commenting on the case.
The problems for Morse began in 2017 when a former girlfriend, Colleen Keller, publicly accused him of repeatedly abusing her over a three-year period in the 1990s, detailing an incident in which, she claims, “he grabbed me by the throat, picked me up, and carried me by the throat into the dining room, where I finally was able to break free.”
“The incident left me with bruises on my neck, throat, and arms,” she said in a statement, according to the Albany Times-Union.
The accusations snowballed in the coming months, with the Times-Union obtaining documents that show Morse’s wife reported that he abused her during their 19-year marriage.
In the affidavit, which the newspaper says was never filed in court, Brenda Morse claimed her husband “has punched me, kicked me, slapped me, broken a jewelry box over my head, broken a picture frame across my back, thrown me down a flight of stairs, and slammed my face against a concrete surface, causing a bloody nose and facial cuts.”
The documents included reports from local child protective services that Morse struck his 16-year-old daughter and choked her.
The daughter told child welfare investigators that in one incident she had the covers pulled over her and that her father “was pulling the covers off and punching her in the side of the head.”
“(Child) said she was fighting and kicking (father)... (Child) said she got up to go to her room and put clothes on to leave. (Child) said (father) followed and was standing kind of on the side of her and he grabbed her with both hands and started to choke her,” the Times Union reported, quoting the documents. “(Child) said (father) was saying ‘I'll kill you right now... who are you talking to me like that.’ (Child) said (father) was holding her throat for about 5 seconds and said he saw that she couldn't breathe and started crying so he let go.”
Morse, one-time chairman of the Albany County Legislature, faced no criminal charges in connection with the alleged assaults and claimed that police deemed them “unfounded.”
In September, the FBI revealed it was investigating Morse, showing up unannounced at his home at 6 a.m. to question him about his business dealings and allegedly using campaigns funds for a Caribbean cruise.
According to the indictment, Morse lied to the agents about a scheme in which he allegedly directed campaign treasurer Ralph Signoracci to withdraw funds from campaign bank accounts in increments from $500 to $5,000 to be used for his personal expenses. Signoracci has been co-operating with federal authorities.
In October, the Times-Union reported, the U.S. Labor Department visited a Job Corps facility where Morse had been hired as a part-time security worker to determine whether he was paid without working. The newspaper reported that Morse’s boss at the facility was a friend and that he had inquired about getting him a job as a Cohoes police officer.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanded that Morse resign, but Morse rebuffed the demand and instead launched a re-election bid. Cohoes City Council members have now scheduled an emergency to consider Morse’s future, though it’s unclear if they have the authority to remove him from office.