How Pigeongate may end

This blog, Alan Bedenko’s extensive work in The Public, and Buffalo News reporting have certainly detailed the rise and fall of Steve Pigeon over a very long period of time. Things are starting to move at a quicker pace now.

The infamous raids on the homes of Pigeon, Steve Casey and Chris Grant occurred nearly 23 months ago. Except for Pigeon’s situation, we don’t yet know what purposes those events served.

Grant, from all that is known, is not in the picture any longer. If he is in the clear then it would be nice for those in authority to say so.

Casey’s name has come up occasionally in reports about his grand jury testimony concerning Mayor Brown’s involvement in a housing matter and also Pigeon’s activities. Casey has not been charged with anything.

Pigeon’s situation is another matter. He was indicted on bribery and extortion charges last year and a trial on those charges is scheduled to start on September 5th. Former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek already pled guilty in those matters last year and is still awaiting sentencing.

Last week another shoe dropped in the Pigeongate matter. Pigeon and two of his political associates, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff, appeared in state court to answer complaints about their involvement with the WNY Progressive Caucus, a political fundraising committee that in 2013, it is alleged, violated the state Election Law concerning campaign receipts and expenses. You can read about the WNY Progressive Caucus in one of my previous blog posts. The complaints against the three will now go to a grand jury and may lead to indictments.

Except for Michalek and Frank Max, none of the Pigeongate players have been convicted of anything and they are due their right to defend themselves in court.

As these matters have moved along, a knowledgeable observer can see the dots appearing on a page, waiting to be connected.

Prosecutors have a time-honored tradition of building their cases like a pyramid, with a base of relatively minor players who, to protect their own interests, offer up incriminating information about people above them in the targeted structure, which in this case is a variety of local and state politicians. The case against Pigeon starts with smaller players including:

  • Former Justice Michalek, who has already admitted to bribe taking from Pigeon.
  • Frank Max, former Cheektowaga Democratic Town Chairman and candidate for county chairman in 2014, who pled guilty earlier this year to violations of the Election Law and was convicted of misdemeanor charges.
  • Kristy Mazurek, Pigeon operative and treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus.
  • David Pfaff, Pigeon operative who has occupied a variety of public positions over the years by Pigeon’s graces.
  • Steve Casey, who had a long history of political involvement with Pigeon prior to and during Casey’s time as Deputy Mayor of Buffalo.
  • Richard Zydel and Wes Moore, 2013 county legislative candidates; and Mark Manna, Amherst Councilman and a previous candidate for Town Supervisor and Democratic County Chairman. All three were actively supported by Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus in 2013.

These players and others, including people who were substantial contributors to the WNY Progressive Caucus, are likely offering up to prosecutors a variety of information about what they did and what they know about Pigeon’s political schemes. Given the suspicious nature Pigeon’s fundraising and election spending, there is probably a lot to tell about where the money really came from and what it was used for. More than a quarter of a million dollars was involved with several local races over a very short time period in the summer of 2013.

Pigeon most obviously knows what the lesser players know, so he can probably see things closing in on him. With one set of state indictments in place and a second that could be imminent, Pigeon is clearly feeling the heat. But there is a bigger picture here and it includes the United States Department of Justice.

A post last September on this blog suggested that the federal role in the Pigeongate investigation may become Pigeon’s coup de grace. The FBI continues to publically indicate that they are working in conjunction with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office in these investigations.

As my September post noted, there is much in the Justice Department’s traditional prosecutorial tool box that could be used in the Pigeongate matter. Pigeon’s efforts involved lots of money, mysteriously raised and spent. The feds in public corruption cases often go after how money is raised and channeled, whether income was properly reported for income tax purpose, and whether the U.S. mails were used to transact illegal activities. Those subjects sound like what Pigeongate is all about.

Where this all leads

Here, therefore, is some informed speculation about what may be going on behind the scenes:

  • The lesser players are obviously being as cooperative as possible regarding what they know about Pigeon. Pigeon either knows or can reasonably guess what they might be saying.
  • The long delay between Pigeon’s indictment last year and the impending September trial is likely as much for the purpose of making Pigeon sweat as it is to allow time to prepare for the trial.
  • The State Attorney General’s office already has a guilty plea from Michalek to implicate Pigeon.
  • The long awaited complaints about the WNY Progressive Caucus will likely lead to additional state indictments of Pigeon, adding to his anxiety.
  • The U.S. Justice Department might go to Pigeon and/or his attorney and point out the seriousness of the state charges and the likelihood of conviction and state prison time.
  • The Justice Department might be looking for Pigeon to cooperate in some even more prominent investigation of other political figures. That can further encourage Pigeon to look for ways to either save himself or to at least mitigate the case against him.
  • Whether Pigeon wants to cooperate or not, and whether he has anything to offer or not to help himself, it seems likely that in the end Pigeon’s state charges will either be piggybacked onto federal charges or that the state charges will be dropped to focus the prosecution on the federal case against Pigeon.

There might also be one more factor at work here. If Pigeon realizes the likelihood of some convictions in the state charges he must know that it will result in some prison time. Federal charges could also lead to prison time. But there might be something else. The feds have correctional institutions such as Allenwood in Pennsylvania that for some inmates offer a less harsh atmosphere than anything found in a state prison. I would not minimize the seriousness about incarceration in a federal facility, but Allenwood isn’t the same as a state prison. Such are the things that might just figure into the disposition and conclusion of Pigeongate.