Campaign worker for ex-Champaign mayor convicted

Campaign worker for ex-Champaign mayor convicted

URBANA — A campaign worker for the former Champaign mayor has been convicted of falsely representing himself as a representative of the city’s liquor commission.

A Champaign County jury of four men and two women took a little over an hour Thursday morning to convict Toby Sirois, 36, of two counts of false personation of a public official. 

The crimes are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by a maximum of 364 days in the county jail and up to two years of probation. Judge Brian McPheters set sentencing for Jan. 26.

The charges stemmed from Sirois’ behavior in late March and early April when he was doing volunteer work for the campaign of then-Mayor Don Gerard, who was defeated in his April re-election attempt.

Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Hall presented evidence that Sirois went in Discount Gas on South Mattis Avenue on March 29 and Hollywood Liquors on Neil Street on April 2 and told employees at each location that he worked for the liquor commissioner — Gerard — and that the businesses could lose their liquor licenses if they didn’t display signs supporting Gerard’s election. Both businesses are owned by the same man.

Hall argued there was no mistaking Sirois’ intent when he went in those businesses while Sirois’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Tony Fiorentino, suggested his client was a “fast talker” whose words were misinterpreted by Indian immigrant employees with a limited command of English.

“It’s a situation rife for misconstruction,” Fiorentino argued.

He added that because the mayor of the city also serves as the liquor commissioner, Sirois was telling the truth when he said he worked for the liquor commissioner. He said the men merely misinterpreted the meaning behind what Sirois was saying.

“Words mean something,” Hall said. “People don’t accidentally misrepresent themselves and they definitely don’t accidentally do it twice to three different people.”

She scoffed at Fiorentino’s suggestion that the men did not understand Sirois.

“Their English is fine. It’s insulting to imply because they are immigrants, they must have misunderstood the defendant because he’s a fast talker,” she argued. 

Hollywood Liquors manager Manish Puri had testified that he and his father, the owner of the businesses, didn’t want any kind of political signs at their establishments. Puri said he instructed the employee at Discount Gas to take down a Gerard sign that had been placed there on March 30.

When Sirois learned of that, he went to confront Puri at the liquor store on April 2.

Puri said — and co-worker Harinder Singh confirmed — that Sirois claimed to be with the liquor commission and wanted to know where his liquor licenses were. Puri pointed to them on the wall, as seen in a videotape of the April 2 exchange. Both Puri and Singh said Sirois was aggressive and threatened Puri with the loss of the business’ liquor license.

Fiorentino tried to diminish Puri’s credibility, saying the liquor store manager had an “axe to grind.”

“He felt bullied. He was hurt by what Toby said. You have to be very careful about that kind of witness,” he said.

Fiorentino conceded that Sirois’ approach may have been “inappropriate or unacceptable” but argued what he said was not knowingly false.

He said Puri may have exaggerated the exchange with Sirois, which was recorded on video that had no audio.

“The state could have called an expert in lip reading ... to prove what Toby said,” Fiorentino argued.

In rebuttal, Hall mocked that notion and sarcastically suggested the state could also have had a scale model of the liquor store constructed.

“We didn’t have to because we have two people who heard what Toby Sirois said."

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz described Sirois as a person who “bullied” the victims into putting up political signs. 

The guilty verdict, she said, “sends a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated in Champaign County.”

 

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Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on December 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I thought this gentleman was more than an unpaid volunteer.. I thought he was being paid.. Did I get that right?  I do remember the Mayor said that he barely knew him........................but then that turned out to be

 

in error..............................................

rsp wrote on December 17, 2015 at 3:12 pm

That check sounded to me more like a reimbursement. It wasn't documented properly to know for sure either way. Not sure I'd want to claim knowing him either if I was running for office.

Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on December 17, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I thought this gentleman was more than an unpaid volunteer.. I thought he was being paid.. Did I get that right?  I do remember the Mayor said that he barely knew him........................but then that turned out to be

 

in error..............................................

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