LEWISTON – A former Lewiston City Hall employee, once touted by city officials as a leader of the local Somali community, has pleaded innocent to charges that he used his power as a general assistance caseworker to solicit sex from a local woman.

A lawyer representing Abdiaziz Ali entered his pleas of not guilty via mail to the 8th District Court in Lewiston.

Ali, 34, of 27 Flanders St., Auburn, faces misdemeanor charges of engaging in prostitution and official oppression.

Police say they have a videotape that shows Ali pressuring a local woman to have sex with him by promising her reduced rent.

If convicted of the charges, Ali could be sentenced to up to a year behind bars.

One of the first Somalis to arrive in Lewiston in 2001, Ali quickly established himself as a leader of the community. Within months after he arrived, city officials hired him as an interpreter and caseworker.

His job was to help the city’s new immigrants with their basic needs: housing, food, employment, language translation, medical assistance and school registration for their children.

He was sought out by the local and national media for comments on everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the rally held in Lewiston by a national white supremacist group in January 2003.

In stories about those and other events, Ali was commonly referred to as a leader or spokesman of the Somali community.

But many local Somalis say they never considered him a leader.

“He was one of the first 10 to 15 people to come here. In that way, he got a chance to get his job with the city and put himself as a representative of the Somali community,” said Khadar Hassan, who moved to Lewiston in March 2002.

“They put him there to help the Somali community, and he used it to his advantage,” said Hassan, the former president of African Immigrants Association.

Others, who didn’t want to be identified for fear that other Somalis would be angry with them for criticizing someone in the community, echoed Hassan’s comments.

“He elected himself as a leader, and the city chose him as a leader,” one man said. “Nobody in the community considers him a leader.”

Ali could not be reached Thursday. He has previously told the Sun Journal that the criminal allegations against him are false and that he intends to prove his innocence in court. His attorney, William Cote, is out of town until next week.

City officials placed Ali on paid administrative leave after he was charged. About a month later, Ali resigned from his post, saying it was the best thing for Lewiston’s immigrant population.

His resignation put an end to the city’s internal investigation of the allegations.

Barred from discussing Ali’s case specifically, City Administrator Jim Bennett simply said that city employees are allowed to keep their jobs as long as they are doing their jobs.

If city officials receive complaints about a city employee but they cannot document or prove anything, they cannot fire the person based solely on allegations, Bennett said.

“It’s not like a private company that can fire someone without much reason,” he said.

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