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Former Cayuga Centers teen denies attempted robbery in Auburn

AUBURN — A 16-year-old has denied taking part in an attempted robbery outside the Cayuga County Courthouse last summer. 

Tertius Lovett — a former resident of Cayuga Centers — pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree attempted robbery, a felony, and third-degree menacing, a misdemeanor. 

Following Lovett's arraignment, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann described the charges listed in the two-count indictment, which was handed down by a grand jury last month. 

According to the indictment, Lovett was arrested at around 10:45 p.m. June 28 following an attempted mugging outside the courthouse on Genesee Street.

Lovett and a co-defendant allegedly approached a 38-year-old man and brandished a "sharp instrument," which the victim believed to be a knife. The victim managed to escape unharmed, Budelmann said, as he reportedly tricked the teens into following him to Parker's Grille, where he called police for help. 

In court Thursday, defense attorney Rome Canzano said Lovett was a "high-need resident" of Cayuga Centers at the time. He has since been transferred to a residential treatment facility near Buffalo where he will remain on "pretrial release" pending further proceedings. 

Lovett was scheduled to return to Cayuga County Court Feb. 8. 

Also in court:

• An Auburn man pleaded not guilty to conspiring to sell cocaine in Cayuga County. 

Aaron Smiley, 40, of 2 Van Patten St., was arraigned on an indictment Wednesday before Judge Mark Fandrich. He was charged with eight felonies and four misdemeanors, including fourth-degree conspiracy, third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, third-, fourth- and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and second-degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia. 

Budelmann said the charges stemmed from an arrest in November when police found cocaine, marijuana and Xanax at Smiley's residence, as well as several scales and bags. 

Smiley pleaded not guilty to all counts Wednesday, but reappeared in court before Judge Thomas Leone Thursday morning. He was remanded to Cayuga County Jail in lieu of $5,000 cash, $10,000 bond and ordered to return to court March 22. 

• An Auburn woman was arraigned Thursday for allegedly illegally selling prescription drugs. 

Melissa McCullum, 38, of 59 Wall St. Apt. 3, appeared in court on an indictment charging her with three counts of fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance and three counts of fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, all class D felonies. 

According to the district attorney, McCullum was arrested last year for selling Diazepam and Clonazepam, both prescription medications.

McCullum pleaded not guilty to all charges Thursday and was released on her own recognizance pending her next court appearance Feb. 8. 

Reps. Higgins, Stefanik oppose tariffs on Canadian paper used by NY newspapers

Two New York representatives are speaking out against the Commerce Department's preliminary decision to impose tariffs on Canadian paper used by book publishers and newspapers across the state. 

U.S. Reps. Brian Higgins and Elise Stefanik oppose the Commerce Department's proposed action to impose tariffs of up to 10 percent on uncoated groundwood paper imports from Canada. 

The Commerce Department's decision follows a petition filed by the North Pacific Paper Company last summer. The company, which is based in the state of Washington, claimed Canadian-made paper was harming its business. 

But Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said the possible tariffs would harm businesses, including newspapers, that rely on the uncoated groundwood paper from Canada. 

"My district is home to a thriving local press corps that would be unfairly burdened by these costs, harming local journalism and the families across my district that rely on these important organizations," she said. 

The newspapers in Stefanik's district that would be affected by the decision include The Post-Star in Glens Falls. The Post-Star and The Citizen are owned by Lee Enterprises, an Iowa-based media company. 

More than 1,100 U.S. newspapers, including The Citizen and The Post-Star, signed a letter that was sent by the News Media Alliance to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in December. The organizations warned that imposing tariffs on Canadian paper could result in the closure of many small newspapers. 

"To survive, some newspapers may resort to increasing print subscription prices, which would only exacerbate the severe challenges facing print newspapers," the letter reads. 

There are other opponents of the Commerce Department's preliminary decision. The American Forest and Paper Association, a leading group representing the U.S. paper industry, opposes the tariffs. 

Higgins, D-Buffalo, said local newspapers shouldn't be harmed by North Pacific Paper Company's claims. 

"The proposed duties would cause undue burden, destabilizing the industry, forcing increases in subscription rates for consumers and reducing jobs in an area already stretched thin," he said. 

The Commerce Department's decision isn't final. The agency could reverse course and not impose tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper. A final determination will be made in May. 

Newspaper letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

A top lawmaker seeks investigation into sex harassment claim

ALBANY — Allegations that an influential New York state senator forcibly kissed a former staffer are "extremely disturbing," the fellow Democrat who leads the party's primary caucus in the chamber said Thursday.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Yonkers, said in a statement that an "immediate independent investigation" needs to be started into the allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, of the Bronx.

"Too many women are discouraged from coming forward because they fear not being believed and attacked," Stewart-Cousins said. "We need to confront sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate workplace behavior head-on and make it clear that it is not acceptable."

In a story first reported Wednesday by The Huffington Post, Erica Vladimer said Klein forcibly kissed her outside an Albany bar in the spring of 2015. Vladimer, now 30, was working at the time for the Klein-led Senate Independent Democratic Conference, whose eight members broke away from mainline Democrats to give Republicans control of the chamber.

She said Klein tried to kiss her while the two smoked cigarettes outside the bar while senators and staffers were celebrating the passage of the state budget.

Klein, 57, denied her allegations during a conference call with reporters held just before the story was posted. He said he welcomes an investigation.

"I want to be crystal clear: This alleged incident never happened nor did anything inappropriate happen in any fashion that evening," Klein said during the conference call, which also included fellow Independent Democratic Conference member Sen. Diane Savino. Savino, of Staten Island, was dating Klein at the time. She said she was also at the bar that night and saw nothing unusual happen between Klein and Vladimer.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo later Wednesday issued a call for an independent investigation into what he called "this disturbing situation."

Klein's only official response Thursday to Stewart-Cousins' comment came from a spokeswoman.

"As Senator Klein already said yesterday, he welcomes any investigation," Candice Giove said in a statement.

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, of Long Island, called Klein "a good and decent person who treats others with respect." He added: "While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate."

The controversy has roiled Senate Democrats as lawmakers started work on the 2018 legislative session, one that will feature battles over state spending and policies in the wake of the federal tax overhaul that's expected to adversely impact New York. As leader of the breakaway Senate Democrats, Klein will play a major role in the negotiations over how the state spends its $150 billion budget.

Hunter not injured after falling into Owasco Lake

OWASCO — A duck hunter was uninjured after he fell through the ice on Owasco Lake Thursday afternoon. 

A caller reported seeing a figure out on Owasco Lake and then not seeing the person reappear around 3:45 p.m. When crews from Owasco and Fleming water rescue arrived on the scene, the hunter was out of the water and was walking back to shore.

The hunter said he fell through the ice but was not injured and refused medical treatment, Fleming Fire Chief Scott Kehoe and Owasco Fire Chief Chris Morabito said. Rescue crews made their way out onto the ice to recover the hunter's weapon, the chiefs said. The hunter was wearing a life vest, according to Kehoe and Morabito, but he was also wearing white camouflage, which made him hard to spot. 

Kehoe urged people to stay off the ice. 

"The ice is not ready (for people to be on it)," Kehoe said. "It's very dangerous. Please use caution." 

Southern Cayuga school district to offer retirement incentive

A version of the Southern Cayuga Central School District logo. 

The Southern Cayuga City School District is offering some of its full-time employees a retirement incentive.

The district's board of education on Monday approved a motion to establish an incentive of $10,000 to teachers and $5,000 to teaching assistants. Loretta VanHorn, the district's business administrator, said in an email the district hopes to save money with the package.

"The district has offered this in the past and realized cost savings," VanHorn said.

Eligible full-time employees can qualify by being at least 55 at the time of retirement, being eligible to retire from the New York State Teachers' Retirement System without a diminished benefit, having a minimum of 30 years of credit through the system and having 30 years of continuous work with the district immediately before retirement.

The other way employees can qualify is by being 55 at retirement with employee's age and years of service at the district before retirement totaling up to at least 80 years. Eligible employees have until March 1 to notify the district that they would like to take the incentive package.

VanHorn said the district believes around nine people qualify for the incentives but there is no set number of people the district is aiming for. She said there would be no consequence for the district's upcoming budget if a certain number of people don't retire beyond the district not saving as much money.

The Southern Cayuga Teacher Association and the board must finalize a memorandum of agreement between the two parties before employees can apply for the incentive. VanHorn said the board is expected to finalize the memorandum at the next meeting on Jan. 22.