BUFFALO — An assistant Niagara County Public Defender has pleaded guilty to a single count of driving while ability impaired by alcohol in a plea deal Erie County prosecutors first made public on Monday.
Vincent Sandonato, 34, entered his plea before Buffalo City Court Judge Kevin Keane on Feb. 16.
Keane fined Sandonato $300, assessed a mandatory $255 state surcharge and suspended Sandonato’s driver's license for 90 days. Sandonato's driving privileges should be restored in four weeks.
The former Niagara County legislator and former Niagara County Community College trustee had been scheduled for a final pre-trial hearing in his case on Tuesday. There was no explanation for why the matter was resolved nine weeks earlier, in February, without any public notice.
Sandonato had originally faced a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated. Had he been convicted on that charge, he could have faced up to one year in jail.
After Sandonato's arrest, his case was transferred to Buffalo City Court because all of Niagara Falls' City Court judges recused themselves from the matter. The Niagara County District Attorney's Office also recused itself, leading to the appointment of Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn's office as a special prosecutor.
Sandonato was appointed by the Niagara County Legislature in early 2020 to a newly created post as a full-time assistant public defender in the Niagara County Public Defenders Office.
County officials said that "after a review of the arrest by county administrators,” Sandonato would "continue on as the assistant county public defender." A county spokesman could not immediately be reached to comment on Sandonato's plea or his continued employment.
A county spokesman had previously indicated, in response to questions about Sandonato's continued employment, "In looking at any employee, the guide (for taking action) is, does (the arrest) impact their ability to do their job?"
New York State Police assigned to the Lewiston Road barrack said they stopped a vehicle driven by Sandonato at 9:28 p.m. June 23, 2020. Sandonato was reported to be traveling south on Military Road (NY Route 265) at 102nd Street at the time he was stopped.
A spokesperson for Flynn's office said troopers indicated that Sandonato was stopped "for failure to maintain the vehicle in the southbound lane." The troopers also said they "observed signs of alcohol intoxication.”