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John O'Hara

Other Kings County CIU Cases
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On October 21, 1996, 35-year-old John O’Hara was charged with vote fraud in Brooklyn, New York. O’Hara, an attorney who had unsuccessfully challenged Democratic candidates supported by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, was accused of voting from an address outside of the district where he lived.

O’Hara was charged with two counts of filing false registration documents in 1992 and five counts of vote fraud for casting ballots in five elections over the following year.

He went to trial in Kings County Supreme Court in the spring of 1997. The prosecution presented evidence that prior to 1992, O’Hara lived in an apartment building at 579 61st Street in Brooklyn and registered to vote from that address. In 1992, following redistricting, 579 61st Street was in a different voting district. The prosecution presented documents showing that O’Hara filed a new voter registration form specifying that he resided at 553 47th Street, which was in the newly drawn borders of the district in which he had previously voted. O’Hara had voted in two elections in 1992 and three elections in 1993 from the 47th Street address.

The prosecution contended that the 47th Street address was a sham—that O’Hara’s girlfriend lived there, but he did not and only used the address so he could continue voting in the same district where he had always voted.

On May 13, 1997, a jury convicted O’Hara on all seven counts. He was sentenced to five years probation, a $20,000 fine and 1,500 hours of community service.

O’Hara asserted—accurately—that he was the first person to be convicted of illegally registering and voting in New York since Susan B. Anthony in 1873.

The New York Appellate Division reversed the convictions in 1998 and ordered a new trial due to an improper jury instruction.

The second trial ended in a mistrial in when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. O’Hara went to trial a third time in June 1999.

A telephone company employee testified that O’Hara maintained a phone at the 61st Street address, but that there was no record of any telephone usage there. The owner of the 61st Street building testified that O’Hara was a tenant there from 1990 to 1993.

Raphael Munoz and Roberto Lozano testified that they moved into the 47th Street building in 1992, intending on purchasing the building from Magaly Lucas, the building’s owner and O’Hara’s girlfriend. Munoz and Lozano testified that when they first moved in, no one else lived in the building, the apartment was in shambles and the basement was uninhabitable.

Munoz and Lozano told the jury that some time after moving in, O’Hara told them that he was receiving mail at that address and asked them to hold it for him.

The defense called an employee of the New York Office of Court Administration who testified that in 1993, O’Hara’s attorney registration form listed the 47th Street building as his home address. An American Express employee testified that O’Hara’s billing statements listed the 47th Street address. Several neighbors who had participated in O’Hara’s political campaigns testified that they occasionally saw him walk into the 47th Street Building and that they had understood that he lived there with his former girlfriend.

A neighbor testified that prior to O’Hara living there, the basement had been renovated into an apartment. O’Hara’s mother and aunt also testified that he lived at the 47th Street address.

O’Hara testified that he moved into the 47th Street address because his ex-girlfriend, Lucas, owned the house. He told the jury he kept the 61st Street address for his relatives and used it as an office. He said that when he and Lucas broke up, she moved to Manhattan and allowed him to stay in the basement apartment without charging rent.

O’Hara conceded that his driver’s license reflected the 61st Street address and that his state and federal income tax returns were filed with the 61st Street address.

The prosecution called Josephine Vales as a rebuttal witness. Vales testified that when she and her husband owned the 47th Street building—prior to Lucas’s ownership, they had not renovated the basement into a habitable apartment.

On July 1, 1999, the jury convicted O’Hara of all seven counts and he was again sentenced to five years probation, fined $20,000 and ordered to complete 1,500 hours of community service.

O’Hara’s appeals of the convictions were unsuccessful—including an attempt in 2005 to vacate the convictions on a claim that he was a victim of a selective prosecution by Hynes because he opposed candidates that Hynes supported.

In 2009, following a hearing by the Committee on Character and Fitness for the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, O’Hara’s law license, which had been forfeited upon his conviction, was reinstated. The decision noted that O’Hara, “accurately it appears, claims that (Hynes’s political) machine was gunning for him and pounced on his change of residency calling it election fraud…Although the committee has grave doubts that Mr. O’Hara did anything that justified his criminal prosecution, even if Mr. O’Hara was guilty of the offense for which he was convicted, we believe that Mr. O’Hara now has the requisite character and fitness to be in reinstated.”

In January 2015, O’Hara’s attorney, Joel Rudin, filed a motion to vacate O’Hara’s convictions. The motion contended that O’Hara’s conduct was not considered a violation under New York civil law and cited new evidence that numerous “prominent figures,” particularly in Brooklyn and including Hynes, had done the same thing and had not been prosecuted. At about the same time that O’Hara was charged in 1996, Hynes listed his voting address as a municipal office building, which had no living quarters.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson’s conviction review unit began a re-investigation of the case. In 2016, investigators interviewed Josephine Vales, who recanted her trial testimony that the basement apartment was uninhabitable. She said that in fact the apartment had been renovated—as O’Hara testified at the trial.

On January 12, 2017, Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez requested that O’Hara’s convictions be vacated. The motion was granted and the charges were dismissed.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/26/2017
State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Additional Convictions:Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1993
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Probation
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:32
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No