G. Steven Pigeon, a longtime Western New York political operative and former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple corruption charges filed in an indictment announced by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The 55-year-old political consultant has been charged with bribery in the second degree, a class C felony; bribery in the third degree, a class D felony; grand larceny theft by extortion in the third degree, a class D Felony; and six counts of rewarding official misconduct in the second degree, a class E felony.
Pigeon, who appeared in court with his attorney, Paul Cambria, entered his plea during an arraignment Thursday morning in front of State Supreme Court Judge Donald F. Cerio, Jr. who set bail at $10,000 cash or $20,000 bond.
Following the arraignment, Cambria met with reporters outside the courtroom where he said Pigeon vehemently denies any wrongdoing and looks forward to his day in court.
Pigeon's arraignment follows Wednesday's guilty plea from former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek. The 65-year-old Michalek resigned from the bench after pleading guilty to various charges in what Schneiderman's office has described as a scheme that involved receiving bribes from Pigeon, and for filing a false document with the New York State Office of Court Administration when he appointed a receiver who had been suggested by Pigeon. Michalek admitted guilt to a pair of felonies, including bribe receiving in the third degree and offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree. In addition to entering the plea, Michalek submitted a letter of resignation to the chief administrative judge, effective immediately.
The charges stem from an ongoing public corruption investigation by the attorney general's office. Schneiderman is scheduled to hold a press conference this afternoon at his office in Buffalo to discuss both cases in greater detail.
The Buffalo News reported this morning that this case is not likely to end with only Michalek and Pigeon facing criminal charges:
Schneiderman, who investigated Pigeon’s activities based on original complaints about election law violations, emerged as the only prosecutor or official in New York State willing to take on the case. And according to a source familiar with the charge, more counts could be forthcoming. The source pointed out nothing in this week’s court proceedings yet addresses the concerns that led Schneiderman’s investigators, the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI in May of 2015 to raid the homes of former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey and Christopher M. Grant, former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.
For now, the state focuses its next steps on Pigeon, who has garnered complaints from political opponents and elections officials for many years over his controversial methods of raising money for independent political committees. Much more serious charges now face Michalek and Pigeon as a result of the original complaints, though those close to the case say more charges could still be pressed.
Pigeon's connections to Cuomo are well known and the governor's name even popped up in the indictment:
In March 2012, Michalek emailed Pigeon regarding a lawsuit pending before him, providing Pigeon with details concerning a motion filed by a non-party to the litigation seeking a protective order from a subpoena served by one of the parties.
In a written decision issued approximately two weeks later, Michalek denied the motion for a protective order, just as Pigeon had requested. Michalek then sent Pigeon an email with a copy of the decision attached and thanked Pigeon for “his efforts” on behalf of his first relative looking for a job, the complaint said.
Pigeon responded by email a short time later with an offer of additional assistance to the relative.
The complaint also indicated that on Dec. 10, 2012, Michalek emailed Pigeon concerning assistance in securing the Appellate Division appointment. Michalek wrote: “think there is a seat open in App Div … I applied … Normally I wouldn’t mention it to you … wonder if you could help.”
That same day, Pigeon replied: “I will start talking u up.”
The documents then indicate that on Jan. 8, 2013, Michalek wrote to Pigeon: “Unc Steve...How’d you do with the Gov??? ...” Later that day, Pigeon responded: “Bunch happening ... in albany now... Gov went well ... Talked u up ... Let’s have coffee soon.”
The complaint draws a clear link between Pigeon and Michalek’s desire for a gubernatorial appointment to the appellate court.
Pigeon had bragged that he was Cuomo's go-to guy in Western New York (this was the subject of a Buffalo News story back in 2013), so the Michalek appointment convo may not be the only time Cuomo shows up in this case.
No matter what happens with the Pigeon case, the Buffalo Billion case is still ongoing as well, with two former Cuomo aides and one current Cuomo associate facing what will almost certainly be criminal charges for corruption.
It is going to be an interesting summer waiting to see how all of this shakes out.
Today Cuomo went to the Catskills with Robert DeNiro.
Here is a transcript of what transpired:
@J__Velasquez @NYGovCuomo A Goodfellas re-enactment for Steven Pigeon: Keep your mouth shut, don't rat on your friends.— rbe (@perdidostschool) June 30, 2016
UPDATED - 1:55 PM: Former assistant district attorney Mark Sacha insinuates Attorney General Schneiderman is engaging in a cover-up by going after low-lying fruit with the corruption indictment while ignoring the election fraud crimes Pigeon was engaged in that could take down a whole swath of politicians:
Would note also that Risa Sugarman, Cuomo's hack at the Board of Elections, referred the Pigeon case initially.
That itself is interesting, since it's doubtful that the independent in name only Sugarman, appointed by the governor, would initiate anything without Cuomo's OK.
In any case, a sordid affair exposing Erie County corruption right to the very core - the justice system, the political system, the election system.
More as we get it.