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.

July campaign financial reports are filed; speculation about Western District federal appointments

July 15th was the deadline for political committees in New York State to file their periodic financial reports. Committees involved with an active election campaign this year will be required to file several additional 2017 reports starting in August.

Compared with past experience, the election campaigns that are being fought this year are publicly pretty mild. The work of collecting and filing nominating petitions is complete. Organizing fundraisers and getting voter recruitment and get-out-the-vote programs set up is, or at least should be, well underway and mostly out of view of the general public that is not much interested in local political things in the middle of July. Here are the financial highlights of the major local campaigns to date.

Mayor of Buffalo

The marquee race this year is for Mayor of Buffalo. Mayor Byron Brown is seeking his 4th term. His challengers are City Comptroller Mark Schroeder and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

As the incumbent, Brown started the race with financial and organizational advantages over his opponents. Financially the Brown lead in campaign funds remains substantial, with his current bankroll more than four times larger than Schroeder’s.

As of July 15th the Mayor’s political committee had a balance of $518,826. He raised $439,292 in the past six months from a large variety of individuals and corporations. Strangely, the Brown report includes 39 pages of fairly large contributions, totaling $251,443 that lists only addresses but no names. The Brown committee spent $261,085, with the biggest expenses for polling and fundraising.

Schroeder has a balance of $118,115, with his six months of fundraising producing $115,592. His committee spent $154,537, with the largest expenditures paid to a Los Angeles consultant and polling expenses.

Betty Jean Grant does not have a mayoral campaign committee registered with the State Board of Elections. Grant’s county legislative committee balance is only $7,227. She raised $6,240 since January and spent $4,678.

There are also candidates who have submitted petitions for the Republican, Conservative and Green Party nominations. No one at this point in time has any reason to take those candidates seriously. The Republican and Conservative candidates might only be “placeholders” who may later decline the nominations to be replaced by another candidate. Mark Schroeder has filed Reform Party petitions. There are 16 registered Reform Party voters in the City of Buffalo.

Erie County races

There are five countywide races on the ballot this year. Here is a rundown of the financial reports from the major candidates in those election contests:

  • Sheriff – Incumbent Republican Tim Howard is being challenged by Democrat Bernie Tolbert. Howard has $138,539 in his campaign treasury. He raised $92,650 during the past six months. Tolbert has $41,742 available. He loaned his committee $25,000.
  • County Clerk – This position has been vacant since Chris Jacobs assumed his new office of State Senator in January. Peggy LaGree, formerly the First Deputy Clerk, has been holding down the fort as Acting County Clerk. The endorsed Democratic candidate is Steve Cichon, who for many years served as a reporter and then news director at WBEN Radio. The Republican and Conservative Party candidate is Assemblyman Mickey Kearns. As of July 15th political newcomer Cichon had raised $16,848 and has $14,216 in the bank. Kearns has a balance of $27,380. He raised $17,149 for the Clerk campaign since January. It is likely that before this campaign is over the Democratic and Republican Party organizations will spend heavily to win the office. This election is only for the final year of Jacobs’ term in office as Clerk. The office will be on the ballot again for a full four year term in 2018.
  • Comptroller – Incumbent Republican Stefan Mychajliw is seeking his second full term in the office. The Democrat is CPA and attorney Vanessa Grushefski. Mychajliw has a campaign account balance of $90,441, having raised $32,525 since January. Grushefski has $15,817 in her account, having raised $20,577 thus far.
  • County Court Judge – Democrat Susan Eagan, who has filed petitions in all parties, is the only candidate running for this office. This is somewhat of a mystery since the office comes with a ten year term and a very generous salary. Nonetheless Eagan has a campaign committee with a balance of $38,525. She has raised $39,934 and has received a $10,000 loan from Jim and Sue Eagan.  Whatever she cannot spend on her campaign or by donating to the political parties or to other candidates will need to be refunded after the election.
  • County Surrogate Court Judge – there is also only one candidate for this judicial seat, Acea Mosey, who has served as the Court’s Administrator for the past several years under retiring Judge Barbara Howe. Mosey is endorsed by the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties and has filed petitions for the other parties’ nominations. Her committee has a campaign balance of $750,832. She raised $379,201 since January, and loaned the committee another $300,000, bringing the total of her personal loans to $450,000. Like Eagan and all judicial candidates, there will be lots of refund checks going out from the Mosey campaign after November. Acea Mosey is well qualified for the office of Surrogate Judge and this race has essentially been over since last year. So the only question, when looking at all the money she has raised and loaned to her campaign is: “why?”

State Supreme Court

There are two positions of Justice of the Supreme Court in the 8th Judicial District to be filled this year. There is one incumbent – Appellate Court Justice Erin Peradotto. Democratic and Republican Party leaders have come together to propose cross-endorsements for Justice Peradotto, who is a registered Republican, and Lynn Keane, a Democrat. Keane is currently the Town Justice in Orchard Park. She narrowly lost an election to the Supreme Court last year.

Assuming the respective party nominating conventions go along with the Erie County chairmen in September we are only going through the formalities here. Peradotto has a committee fund balance of $101,708. Keane has not as yet created a 2017 committee.

Town of Amherst

For now I’ll just leave this as a list of campaign committee balances with no editorial comments (except that Republican State Chairman Ed Cox contributed $250 to Erin Baker):

  • Democrat for Supervisor – Brian Kulpa $4,070
  • Republican for Supervisor – Marjory Jaeger $31,465
  • Democrat for Council – Jacqualine Berger $2,939
  • Democrat for Council – Shawn Lavin $1,092
  • Republican for Council – Erin Baker $56,800
  • Republican for Council – Joseph Spino $7,449
  • Republican for Council – Christopher Drongosky – no committee registered
  • Conservative for Council – William Kindel – no Council committee registered

O’Donnell for New York

The O’Donnell for New York committee was set up in 2005 in anticipation of a 2006 race for state attorney general. Denise O’Donnell was to have been the committee’s candidate.  She dropped out after the state Democratic Party Convention in the spring of 2006.

Aside from preliminary campaign expenses for the race that was never run, the main beneficiaries of the committee’s largesse have been the re-election campaign of her State Supreme Court Justice husband John O’Donnell and her lobbyist/political consultant son Jack.

As of July 15th the O’Donnell for New York committee had a balance in its treasury of $280,776. It spent $268 on bank and IRS fees since January. Bank interest produced $405 in new revenues. In total this committee has raised $1,122,670 since 2005. You can read further information about this committee in a previous posting on this blog.

Garner update

A previous post mentioned the political income that political operative Maurice Garner had collected in recent years. 2017 is not going as well. His Urban Visions and Garner Associates collected nothing in the past six months. His Urban Chamber of Commerce organization, one of three locations raided by the FBI and State Police last month, collected a total of $650 since January from the committees of Acea Mosey, Byron Brown and Joel Giambra.

Speculation about Trump administration appointments in the Western District of New York

The most obvious and significant local political appointments that follow from the election of a new president are the positions of federal judge, United States attorney and United States marshal. Word on the street is that Republicans in Western New York have settled on their choices for those offices in the Western District of New York.

For judge the person moving forward is Amy Habib Rittling, a partner at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman. The role that Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand might play in consideration of the nomination is not known. This appointment would fill a long term vacancy on the Court.

For U.S. attorney speculation centers around Hodgson Russ partner John Sinatra. Sinatra is the brother of developer and Bush 43 appointee Nick Sinatra. The U.S. attorney’s position has been vacant since William Hochul resigned last fall.

The choice for U.S. marshal, according to circulating reports, is Peter Vito. Vito served as Commissioner of Central Police Services in the administration of then County Executive Chris Collins. Normally the U.S. marshal’s position in the Western District goes to someone from Monroe County if the U.S. attorney is from Erie County.

Actual presidential nominations and congressional action on these appointments will depend on how such things fit into the schedules of the Trump administration and Congress. At the moment they seem to be pretty busy with other things.

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. Continue reading

Betting on the Trump administration; Cuomo at the ECDC fundraiser; Niagara County politics; free tuition

The Trump regime

Today, February 15th, is the 27th day of the Trump regime. Why does it seem like an eternity already?

All new administrations have a honeymoon period; a break-in period; and a denouement period. The first two usually stretch one hundred days or more; the latter, if lucky does not happen until years three, four, or five of an administration. For the Trump team the honeymoon period was over almost before it began. The break-in period will probably last four years, assuming the administration lasts that long. The denouement has started already. Continue reading

The O’Donnell for New York committee

Running for public office can be a difficult proposition. A potential candidate has to commit him or herself to the grind of the campaign – endless hours and public scrutiny. A campaign team needs to be assembled. And depending on the office, money, sometimes lots of money, needs to be raised.

Denise O’Donnell had by 2004 (and continues to have) a distinguished legal career that has included work in private and public practice. She served in the 1990’s as the Western District of New York United States Attorney, held a state criminal justice position and more recently has been a member of the staff of the United States Justice Department. Senator Charles Schumer recommended her appointment as a federal District Judge but the Obama White House never formally nominated her and she withdrew as a candidate for the position. Continue reading

Pigeon’s financial shenanigans — more to the story

The Buffalo News’ Susan Schulman did a nice job with Sunday’s feature story and two-page spread on the various campaign activities of Steve Pigeon. In many ways, though, it is just a compilation of the same information that this blog and Alan Bedenko (particularly Alan’s work, which started several years before mine) have produced over and over. There certainly is a treasure trove of materials to work with. Continue reading