First New Yorker prosecuted for voter fraud since 1873 exonerated in 20-year legal battle

Jan 12, 2017 By Christina Carrega and Larry McShane, The New York Daily News

Attorney John O’Hara, (c) has been exonerated of all charges after being wrongfully convicted for voter fraud in 1997. (Photo: Jesse Ward)

The first New Yorker prosecuted for voter fraud since Susan B. Anthony in 1873 was exonerated of all charges Thursday to end a bitter 20-year legal battle.

“It feels great,” said attorney John O’Hara as he left Brooklyn Supreme Court. “When you’re a convicted felon, it’s like you’re a second-class citizen. We are going to go have a chicken quesadilla.”

O’Hara’s protracted fight for vindication ended when the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit looked at his case and reversed his voter fraud conviction.

O’Hara, a political outsider and thorn in the side of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, long claimed that his prosecution by then-DA Charles J. Hynes was politically motivated.

CRU head Make Hale said the testimony of a witness at O’Hara’s third trial on the charges proved suspect when his team reinterviewed her.

“This raises reasonable doubt and in the interest of justice we move to dismiss and seal the indictment,” Hale said at the hearing where Justice Miriam Cyrulnik vacated the conviction.

O’Hara faced seven counts of voter fraud at three separate legal proceedings. He was convicted in 1997, with the verdict overturned on appeal the next year.

A 1999 trial resulted in a hung jury, and a third prosecution led to a felony conviction that was upheld in 2001. Anthony was charged for casting her ballot despite a ban on women voters.

O’Hara lost his law license, served 1,500 hours of community service and paid $20,000 in fines. He also spent five years on probation.

In 2009, he was reinstated as an attorney after the Appellate Division ruled O’Hara’s disbarment was unwarranted.

O’Hara’s attorney promised the clearing of his client was not the end of the long-lingering case.

“This is a civil rights malicious prosecution case that will be filed shortly,” promised attorney Dennis Kelly. “Hynes ran his office, abused his power of the office, to persecute political opponents … (a) political witch hunt.”

In previous court filings, O’Hara had noted that Hynes served as Brooklyn’s top prosecutor despite owning a condominium in Breezy Point, Queens.

“It’s unfortunate that he’s sitting in Breezy Point and is not being held accountable,” said Kelly. “But we are going to hold him accountable.”

The charges against O’Hara focused on a period when he shared his then-girlfriend’s apartment while holding on to his own rent-stabilized residence.

The tide began to turn a bit when his law license was restored. But it wasn’t until the late Kenneth Thompson unseated Hynes in 2013 that the O’Hara camp felt they would get a fair shake.

“Thompson knew this was a political hit,” said Kelly. “He told us he was get justice for John … They did a good and solid investigation and came up with a key witness who lied.”