Steven Pigeon at the Capitol in Albany in 2009 (AP/Mike Groll)
ALBANY – Western New York political operative G. Steve Pigeon was indicted by federal prosecutors in Buffalo Oct. 6 on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and bribery.
Acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Kenneth Blanco, and Acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, James Kennedy Jr., unsealed an eight-count indictment against Pigeon alleging that he bribed a state Supreme Court justice. New York state Supreme Court Justice John Michalek pleaded guilty in state Supreme Court to a felony count in June 2016 of receiving a bribe and admitted to filing a public document with false information.
Pigeon, the former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party with heavy ties to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pleaded not guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud, three counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of federal programs bribery and three counts of violation of the Travel Act. Pigeon is also facing state charges in connection with the alleged scheme.
Pigeon previously worked at the law firm Underberg & Kessler and was of counsel to former state Sen. Pedro Espada, who is in federal prison on corruption charges.
Between February 2012 and April 2013, federal prosecutors allege that Pigeon offered former New York state Supreme Court Justice Michalek favors in exchange for official actions, according to the indictment. Pigeon allegedly offered employment to a member of Michalek’s family and agreed to support Michalek’s application for appointment to the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court in exchange for favorable judicial decisions from Michalek.
“Bribery of a judge strikes at the very core of our democracy,” said Blanco in a statement released Oct. 6. “The independence of the judiciary is paramount to civilized society. Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners will pursue any and all attempts to corrupt our fundamental institutions, including the judiciary.”
Pigeon, who was arraigned Oct. 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Roemer of the Western District of New York in Buffalo, is being represented by Paul Cambria, a senior partner of Buffalo-based Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria, where he specializes in criminal trials and criminal appeals.
Last June, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office accused Pigeon on state charges of bribing Michalek in exchange for favorable treatment on cases in which Pigeon and his associate had interest. Schneiderman’s bribery case against Pigeon hit a snag when state Supreme Court Judge Donald Cerio Jr. decided to suppress email evidence that helped the Attorney General’s Office get an indictment.
Following the arraignment, Cambria told reporters in Buffalo that the federal charges were filed because the state’s case is tenuous.
“I believe these new federal charges today are nothing more than an end around in which the feds are trying to rescue the state case. I believe they are trying to take that state case from across the street and wash it in the River Jordan here at federal court,” Cambria said.
Schneiderman had also brought separate charges against the Democratic operative. In April, Pigeon and two others were accused by Schneiderman of illegally coordinating with three candidates who were benefited by a political action committee, the Western New York Progressive Caucus. Candidates directly discussed campaign literature with staff working on the PAC, the complaint from Schneiderman’s office said, and blew through the contribution limit.
Federal prosecutors in April filed a criminal complaint against Pigeon, claiming that the Democratic operative solicited a $25,000 campaign donation from a foreign national to Cuomo’s re-election campaign. Federal prosecutors on Oct. 6 asked Roemer to dismiss the charge, which he agreed to.