Republicans in an New York legislative district voted overwhelmingly for their incumbent assemblyman in a Tuesday primary. There’s just one problem: he’s dead.
Bill Nojay, a New York state Assembly member from the state’s 133rd District scored a handy victory over his primary challenger, despite having killed himself four days earlier. Nojay took his own life on Friday, the same day he was expected to receive federal fraud charges.
It’s not the first time a politician has won their race posthumously. In 2010, a Sacramento Democrat won a primary a month after her death, due to her overwhelmingly Democratic constituency. Earlier the same year, a Tennessee city ousted its unpopular mayor by electing a candidate who had passed the previous month. But even among this unfortunate group, Nojay’s is an unusual case.
Nojay was found dead on Friday morning, in the Rochester, New York cemetery where his family had a burial plot. A police officer witnessed Nojay shoot himself, Rochester police confirmed in a Friday press conference. But despite the incumbent candidate’s death, local Republican groups did not pull Nojay’s name from the ballot, or even support his challenger.
“Despite the unexpected and tragic loss of our Assemblyman, the endorsement still stands,” Republicans from the town of Hornell wrote, encouraging voters to back the dead candidate.
Their reasons are political. With Nojay dead, the chairmen from the three counties he represented can select a primary winner of their choosing—and given the region’s Republican bend, this candidate will likely win the general. None of the chairmen returned requests for comment.
All this might be upsetting to Nojay’s primary challenger, Richard Milne, who lost to a dead man and is still waiting for his party’s blessing. Rather than wait for the county chairmen to give him the nod, he pulled his name from the election on Wednesday.
“It's the process we have and I have to respect it. I don’t believe the chairs acted in a professional way,” Milne told The Daily Beast, adding that accepting the chairs’ nomination could make him “beholden to party chairs if I were elected.”
That perceived lack of professionalism was a growing problem for Nojay, a Trump-loving, part-time talk radio host, who found himself increasingly embroiled in legal trouble as the election neared.
In July it was announced that Nojay and three other American businessmen including Sichan Siv, a George W. Bush-appointed envoy to the United Nations, would be tried in absentia for an alleged fraud scheme in Cambodia. Nojay and his business partners are accused of running a rice-importing grift, allegedly swindling a prominent Cambodian dentist for $1 million.
“They told me that if I joined the business and invested with them, they will prepare green cards for me and for my daughter who was studying in the United States, and we would become American citizens,” the dentist Eng Lykuong’s complaint read. “Because I believed in them, especially Mr. Sichan Siv, who is a very famous person in the United States and is also a former American Ambassador to the United Nations, I then decided to join and invest with them, and I sent my own money, $1 million, to them via Mr. William R. Nojay’s bank account, transferring via the First Cambodia Bank in Cambodia in 2012.”
But after Lykuong wired the money to Nojay’s account, the company shuttered, leading prosecutors to accuse him and his business partners of running a shell company.
Meanwhile, Nojay’s legal woes were growing stateside. One of his New York-based companies was the subject of a federal investigation for a questionable contract with Rochester schools. Then, two weeks ago, FBI officials told Nojay’s business partner that the assemblyman was under investigation for allegedly embezzling from a fund that held $1.8 million, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
The latest charges facing Nojay came in a sealed indictment. But Curtis Dehm, an attorney for Nojay’s business partner confirmed to The Daily Beast that Nojay had been expected at a Friday morning federal court appearance. With Nojay dead, his business partners might never see the money he allegedly embezzled.
“My client and his firm are in a very real sense victims, because they’re owed money,” Dehm told The Daily Beast. “Ultimately when someone passes away, criminal charges are dismissed.”
Nojay’s constituency has also been left in the lurch. The right-leaning counties will likely vote for a Republican in the general election—they just won’t have any say in who that Republican will be.
“It’s definitely an unusual situation,” Dehm said.