BUFFALO N.Y. (WKBW) - Former Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Pigeon is already facing a trial on charges that he bribed former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek.
Now Pigeon is facing new felony charges that were revealed in State Supreme Court in Buffalo.
Pigeon and two others, David Pfaff and Kristy Mazurek, are charged with a four count felony complaint alleging the three "knowingly and willfully" engaged in Illegal Campaign Coordination. The New York State Attorney General's Office accuses the three of using an "unauthorized political committee" to illegally fund local campaigns for public office while exceeding contributions limits.
State prosecutors also accuse the three of filing false Campaign Finance Disclosure Reports to the New York State Board of Elections.
The three defendants entered not guilty pleas and were released on their own recognizance.
Defense Attorney Joel Daniels, who is representing Kristy Mazurek, told reporters that he expects a "favorable" outcome for all three.
However, also in court for the arraignment was former Erie County District Attorney Mark Sacha. Sacha said he was fired from his job by former District Attorney Frank Sedita because Sacha was pushing to prosecute Pigeon for election law violations several years ago.
"I told you so 10 years ago and I defy anybody to tell me I am wrong about it," said Sacha after the arraignments.
7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly has more in his reports.
The following is a press release issued by NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman following the arraignments:
BUFFALO - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the filing of a felony complaint charging G. Steven Pigeon, 55, Kristy Mazurek, 46 and David Pfaff, 57, with three class E felonies in violation of Election Law section 14-126 (5), and one count of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, in violation of Penal Law section 175.35, a class E felony. The three defendants were arraigned on the felony complaint today by Hon. Donald F. Cerio, Jr., in New York State Supreme Court, Erie County.
According to the felony complaint filed in court today, Pigeon, Mazurek, and Pfaff are alleged to have knowingly and willfully engaged in illegal campaign coordination while acting on behalf of the Western New York Progressive Caucus (“WNYPC”), an “unauthorized political committee,” in regard to the nomination for election of three political candidates in the September 10, 2013 Democratic primary. Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of four years if convicted on all counts. The charges stem from a joint investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the New York State Board of Elections.
The full complaint can be read here.
“These charges send a clear message: we will aggressively enforce our state’s election laws,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “As alleged in our criminal complaint, the defendants in this case flouted the law to fund their own handpicked candidates for office in Erie County. As alleged, the defendants' use of a political committee to circumvent the law and undermine the integrity of these elections was an affront to Erie County voters – and we intend to hold them accountable.”
“In democratic societies, the voting process is a means by which citizens hold their government accountable,” said FBI Buffalo Special Agent in Charge Adam S. Cohen. “Our system of representative government works only when it's done in accordance with the laws created to ensure fair elections.”
The felony complaint alleges that Pigeon and Mazurek created WNYPC for the purpose of electing their preferred candidates and that many of the candidates funded by WNYPC were relying almost entirely on the political committee for all campaign-related expenditures. In fact, as the complaint details, very little money was raised by the candidates themselves. For example, one candidate raised just $450 between July 12, 2013 and September 16, 2013, while WNYPC received $250,000 in contributions and spent extensively in support of the candidate’s campaign – resulting in the vast majority of the candidate’s campaign-related costs being borne by WNYPC rather than the candidate’s committee.
The complaint alleges that, on behalf of the WNYPC, the defendants sought input from two candidates regarding campaign literature and arranged for them to appear at a photo shoot paid for by WNYPC. WNYPC also paid other expenses on behalf of one of the candidates that exceeded the $1,476.50 contribution limit of that race by over $16,500; and paid nearly $12,000 worth of expenses over the $1,192.70 contribution limit for the second candidate’s race.
The defendants also allegedly conferred with a third candidate and used WNYPC funds to pay for the third candidate’s campaign signs, postage, and campaign literature. In doing so, WNYPC exceeded the $1,550.10 contribution limit for that race by over $3,200.
The defendants are also charged with filing a false Campaign Finance Disclosure Report with the New York State Board of Elections by failing to truthfully disclose the financial activity of the WNYPC.
An unauthorized political committee is a political committee that is not specifically authorized by one candidate or a group of candidates to raise or spend money on their behalf for their election.
Campaign coordination is a crime under the Election Law that is committed when a person knowingly and willfully solicits, organizes or coordinates the activities of an unauthorized committee with the activities of a candidate or the candidate’s agents for the purpose of making expenditures on behalf of the candidate that exceed the contribution limit for that candidate’s race.
In addition to the new charges filed today, Pigeon is currently under indictment for the crimes of Bribery in the Second Degree, Bribery in the Third Degree, six counts of Rewarding Official Misconduct in the Second Degree, and Grand Larceny in the Third Degree. The charges arise from conduct which involved former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek, who resigned from the bench after pleading guilty to the felony charges of Bribe Receiving in the Third Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree on June 29, 2016. The indictment against Pigeon is pending before Judge Cerio. A trial date has been set for September 5, 2017.
Assistant Attorney General Susan H. Sadinsky of the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau and Assistant Attorney General Diane M. LaVallee of the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau are prosecuting this case under the supervision of Public Integrity Bureau Chief Daniel Cort and Deputy Bureau Chief Stacy Aronowitz. The investigation was handled by Supervising Investigator Richard Doyle, Investigator Brian G. Ross of the Investigators Bureau, which is led by Deputy Chief Antoine Karan and Chief Dominick Zarrella, Senior Investigator of Major Crimes Christopher Weber of the New York State Police and Special Agent Brian A. Burns of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Senior Analyst Robert Vanwey of the Attorney General’s Office also worked on the investigation. The Attorney General thanks Acting United States Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr.; Assistant United States Attorney Joseph M. Guerra, III, Chief, Criminal Division; and Assistant United States Attorney Paul Bonanno, of the United States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of New York for their work on the case. The Attorney General also thanks Chief Enforcement Counsel Risa Sugarman and the New York State Board of Elections for their vital work on the case.
The charges contained in the felony complaint are merely allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.