Catskills resort town’s election thrown into limbo amid voter fraud accusations

A tiny Catskills resort town that’s at the center of a federal voter fraud investigation will have to wait to learn the results of its Tuesday election.

The village of Fleischmanns — which on Tuesday held a vote for mayor as well as two seats on its board of trustees — did not certify the election pending a court’s decision on whether to include contested absentee ballots.

That’s despite what appeared to be a record turnout on Tuesday.

Located at the foot of the Belleayre ski resort, the village is a popular summer destination for the Hasidic community, a religious sect that some Fleischmanns residents believe is trying to subvert the election process. 

In a village with a total population of 210, some 111 votes were counted, including 78 residents who showed up in person at the local library along with 33 uncontested absentee ballots, according to Todd Pascarella, a candidate for trustee.

“One guy came directly from his farm given the amount of dust and debris he still had on him and we also saw a lot of people we don’t normally see at the polls,” said Christine Panas who runs a local coffee shop in Fleischmanns and was a poll watcher on Monday.

“Residents were extremely interested in this election.”

At issue are 81 ballots submitted by absentee voters whose residency is being challenged. Those ballots were not opened, pending a court decision on what to do with them. 

Fleischmanns is located at the foot of Belleayre ski resort.

A New York Supreme Court judge, Brian Burns, indicated at a hearing on Thursday that he’s inclined to wait until a local sheriff’s office completes its investigation of 112 contested voter registrations.

In the meantime Fleischmanns residents are fired up.

“It was a record or near record turnout for a village where past elections have been decided by less than 20 voters,” Pascarella told The Post.

It’s the third year in which residents allege that Fleischmanns elections for trustee and mayor were won fraudulently by a group of people who vacation in Fleischmanns – but live full time in Brooklyn and New Jersey – and submitted absentee ballots listing motels and seasonal vacation rentals as their upstate residences.

A gazeba in front of a historic Fleischmanns sign.
Fleischmanns residents claim that there have been three elections in which voter fraud has occurred.

The alleged carpet-baggers were recruited by two property moguls in Fleischmanns – Wigdor Mendlovic and Josef Horowitz – who allegedly want to control the local government to push through favorable zoning and development plans, the residents say.

The Department of Justice and the US Postal Inspection Service are investigating the matter, as The Post reported exclusively. 

Pascarella and two other candidates – Elizabeth Hughes who is running for mayor and Yvonne Reuter who is running for trustee – challenged some 112 voters this month. They sued their political opponents and the Delaware County Board of Elections to pause the certification of the election pending the outcome of the Delaware County Sheriff’s investigation into whether those voters are indeed residents of Fleischmanns.   

A sign for the Delaware Court Motel.
A number of absentee voters signed voter registration cards indicating that they lived at the Delaware Court Motel.

Hughes, Pascarella, and Reuter handily won the election minus the contested ballots.

Hughes garnered 69 votes compared with her opponent Sam Gil’s 42 while current trustee, Stewart Cohen, who is running for reelection garnered just 35 votes compared with Reuter’s 72 and Pascarella’s 69. Another candidate for trustee – who is a defendant in the complaint – Miguel Martinez-Riddle got 40 votes, according to Daniel Belzil who is representing the plaintiffs.

“It was a landslide,” Belzil said at the hearing. “Our candidates won by a two-to-one margin.”

Elizabeth Hughes.
Elizabeth Hughes is running for mayor of Fleischmanns.

Judge Burns granted the candidates a temporary stay on Thursday. “We need to do this right from the beginning,” Burns said at the hearing, seemingly referring to the completion of the sheriff’s investigation. Though he didn’t rule yet on the length of the stay.

Last year, some 63 people were purged from the Fleischmanns voter rolls after the sheriff found that they didn’t live in Fleischmanns and had no right to participate in the local elections there. But it was too late to change the outcome of the election, which had already been certified by the village.  

Just Stewart Cohen was represented at the hearing by attorney James Curran who argued that the absentee voters had “dual residency” which is “common in Fleischmanns.”

“It could take several more weeks…or it could take a year” if the election is stayed, Curran said. “We would like to see these absentee ballots opened.”

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