ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Authorities in Albany said Monday Erie County’s former commissioner of social services, and one of his employees, were in the Renaissance Hotel on Dec. 6 when he forced himself on her.
While attorneys for the 53-year-old Al Dirschberger say the affair with the 28-year-old woman was consensual, a grand jury decided otherwise last Tuesday, and indicted him on rape and criminal sexual act charges, both in the third degree.
Dirschberger was forced to turn himself in to Albany police on Monday, and pleaded not guilty during his arraignment a short time later.
The indictment was handed up Tuesday afternoon, a little more than a month after Albany police said he raped one of his subordinate Erie County employees while the two were in the state capital to attend a conference on the taxpayer’s dime.
On Monday, an assistant district attorney for Albany County told the judge the state intends to use a recorded phone call between Dirschberger and the alleged victim, and the testimony of a county official, should the case go to trial. The identity of the county official hasn’t yet been made public.
Nicholas Romano, Dirschberger’s attorney, gave the following statement Monday:
“Dr. Al Dirschberger appeared in Albany County Court this afternoon to plead “not guilty” to charges of sexual assault because he is not guilty. Dr. Dirschberger looks forward to the opportunity to provide his side of the story and fully defend himself. His exemplary and unblemished record of over 30 years as a social worker, an educator, and a public servant speaks for itself. He is innocent and, to that end, will request a speedy trial to exonerate himself. Dr. Dirschberger extends his heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the countless friends, colleagues, and community members that have reached out to support him and his family, and offered to help him in combating these charges.”
Dirschberger was ordered to resign Dec. 28 after an internal investigation revealed his Dec. 5-6 trip to Albany led to “multiple violations of county policy” and a criminal investigation into allegations of rape.
The office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz initially said that day in a release sent to the media, “Dirschberger resigned from his post for personal reasons.” It did not provide any other information.
However, a few hours after News 4 broke the news of the criminal investigation, Poloncarz called a press conference to provide additional details.
“I am very disappointed,” Poloncarz said Dec. 28 “I am angry, to put it mildly, with this entire situation because this is not something you should have to deal with. But once we had a problem, we moved to deal with it.”
Poloncarz said at the news conference he moved quickly after learning Dec. 23 about a criminal investigation against Dirschberger. Poloncarz said he reached out to a detective with the Albany Police Department, who told him then Dirschberger was the subject of that investigation.
Dirschberger sent an email to Poloncarz Dec. 28, which said he was resigning for personal reasons. A spokesman for Poloncarz said Monday the county executive stands by his Dec. 28 statement, including that he first learned of the investigation into his appointee on Dec. 23.
Dirschberger, who was appointed by Poloncarz in 2015, regularly traveled on behalf of the county, and was in the state capital on Dec. 6, when law enforcement sources said the incident allegedly happened.
First Deputy Commissioner Marie Cannon has been serving as acting commissioner until a permanent replacement is found. A search for his replacement is underway.
Dirschberger is also a longtime girls and women’s coach. He’s listed as the assistant coach of the Niagara University’s softball team. He is a former assistant coach of the Canisius College softball team. His biography states he “spent six years coaching football, basketball and track and field at Cheektowaga Central High School before taking over the Niagara softball program. He also coached the St. Mary’s High School girls basketball team from 1993-2000.”
He was placed on administrative leave from Niagara University when they found out about the criminal investigation last month.
Niagara University’s Athletic Director, Simon Gray, released a statement, saying “Niagara University takes matters such as these very seriously. We are aware of the allegations against Al Dirschberger, and we have placed him on administrative leave from his responsibilities with the Purple Eagles softball team.”