What does Pigeon’s Federal Court re-scheduling and the entrance in the matter of a Washington DOJ attorney suggest?

Steve Pigeon, for his entire life, has been totally immersed in politics, from his childhood campaign activities in Missouri to work in the seats of power in Albany and Washington. The past two years, however, have not been fun.

Allegations of election law violations have swirled for many years, finally boiling over with state and federal legal actions. The raid on Pigeon’s home by state and federal authorities two years ago was followed by state bribery and extortion charges and the 2016 guilty plea by the state judge caught up in those matters.

Then came additional state complaints related to Pigeon’s infamous 2013 WNY Progressive Caucus political committee and its questionable fundraising and campaign spending activities. Formal charges have not yet been placed in that matter.

Finally there was the federal criminal complaint lodged against him on April 28, 2017. The complaint in USA v. Pigeon, as listed in federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) documents, concerns “conspiracy to defraud the United States” and “contributions and donations by foreign nationals.”

The complaint was unsealed and Pigeon had his first court appearance in the matter before Magistrate Michael Roemer on May 8th.  Paul Cambria and Justin Ginter represent Pigeon.  Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney Paul Bonanno from the Western District of New York represents the United States.  On May 9th John Dixon Keller from the DOJ’s Criminal Division Public Integrity Section in Washington joined the case on the government’s behalf.  More on Keller below.

On May 15th a preliminary hearing before Magistrate Roemer was scheduled for June 15th.  On June 6th, however, the hearing date was changed to Monday, August 7th.

On July 27th PACER records show that the hearing was re-scheduled again, to October 6, 2017.

The proceedings to-date raise questions about the reasons for the delays. I hope the lawyers and judges reading this post will forgive this non-attorney for some speculation, but it seems to me that this has nothing to do with giving everyone involved a chance to enjoy the summer sun.  It seems more likely that there is some serious case building, defendant squeezing, and prosecution coordination going on.

The court Order Setting Conditions of Release concerning Pigeon which was signed by Magistrate Roemer and Pigeon on May 8th lists as one of the conditions that “the defendant shall appear for any other local or state court proceedings and abide by any conditions imposed, as so ordered by the jurisdiction of that court.”  So whatever occurs in state court relating to the Pigeon indictment and additional campaign finance issues will proceed while Pigeon awaits the October 7th federal hearing.

Former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek pleaded guilty in June 2016 to the bribery charges involved in Pigeon’s indictment. The sentencing of Michalek, however, has been continuously postponed.  Pigeon is currently scheduled to go on trial in the bribery case on September 5th.

So, just wondering, is everything teed up for a Pigeon plea deal in October?

Now back to the note about the second DOJ attorney who is referenced as joining Pigeon’s federal case in May, John Dixon Keller.

A Google search indicates that Keller is a bit of a “have law books, will travel” DOJ attorney. A DOJ press release from October 2014 reports that Keller was a prosecutor in a case where a Mississippi man pleaded guilty to paying bribes to employees at a military base for freight business.

More recently, and perhaps of greater note, Keller represented the United States government in the case of USA v. Arpaio.  Joe Arpaio was Sheriff of Maricopa County Arizona for 24 years until his defeat in last November’s election.  This past Monday Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt of court, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.  Arpaio is notorious for the harsh conditions in the jail that he ran and for his campaign against undocumented immigrants.  He has been an active supporter of Donald Trump.

The re-scheduling of Pigeon’s hearing to October 7th and the involvement of a DOJ Public Integrity attorney from Washington in the matter might indicate that his legal problems, combining both the state charges and the federal complaint, are closing in on him.

The system of justice in the United States, despite the oft-cited dictum of “justice delayed is justice denied,” sometimes moves at a very slow and deliberative pace. But each case has a conclusion and USA v. Pigeon seems to be drawing to its end.