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Pigeon’s aide Mazurek cooperating with investigators in probe of political action committee

When investigators raided the homes of G. Steven Pigeon and two other prominent politicians May 28, they passed on the residence of Kristy L. Mazurek, even though she is the treasurer of the political committee that appears to be key to the state and federal probe.

They didn’t raid her home because Mazurek already is cooperating with investigators, according to three knowledgeable sources.

Mazurek has spent hours in at least two meetings with investigators from the State Attorney General’s Office, the FBI and State Police, answering dozens of questions about the financial dealings of the WNY Progressive Caucus, the political committee Pigeon formed in 2013, one of the sources said.

“She has cooperated … she has answered questions,” said a person who knows Mazurek and is sympathetic to her situation. “Kristy is in a very tough spot right now. Steve Pigeon is her friend, but she doesn’t want to become a target” of law enforcement. “She’s walking on a very thin line.”

Mazurek’s cooperation with authorities is significant because she is considered in local political circles to be one of Pigeon’s closest operatives and associates. And in past interviews, Pigeon has said that Mazurek was the person who maintained the records of WNY Progressive Caucus.

Mazurek declined to be interviewed for this story. Her attorney, Joel L. Daniels, declined to confirm or deny that Mazurek is cooperating with the investigators. He said it is not true, however, that authorities have granted his client immunity from prosecution.

“Kristy Mazurek is a longtime political activist,” Daniels said, in a statement released after repeated requests by The Buffalo News for an interview with Mazurek. “As treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, she played a limited role. Very simply, she signed checks and paid bills.”

Although the defense attorney tried to downplay Mazurek’s role in the caucus and the investigation, some who have been watching the case think her cooperation could be significant.

As treasurer of WNY Progessive Caucus since it was formed, Mazurek was responsible for writing all its checks when it made expenditures, and she made the bank deposits when someone donated money to the group. The caucus’ donations and expenditures are currently being examined by the State Attorney General’s Office, the FBI, State Police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They are trying to determine if the caucus broke any state or federal laws.

Investigators last month obtained search warrants and raided the homes of Pigeon; Christopher M. Grant, the chief of staff for Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence; and Buffalo’s former deputy mayor, Steven M. Casey. Attorneys for Pigeon, Grant and Casey have all denied their clients did anything wrong.

Other politicians and attorneys say Mazurek knows a lot about the caucus and how it operated.

“I think Kristy was a big player in that organization,” said Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, D-Buffalo, one of the people whose complaints about the caucus ignited the corruption probe. “I can’t prove it, but it is my opinion that Steve Pigeon, Frank Max, Kristy and Tim Kennedy decided which political people were going to be targeted by the caucus, and how the money was spent.”

Max is the former chairman of Cheektowaga’s Democratic committee. Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat, is a state senator who defeated Grant in two hard-fought primary elections. Government records show that Kennedy donated $85,000 in campaign funds to the WNY Progessive Caucus, making him the second-biggest donor after Pigeon.

Max said he has “no control” over the caucus.

“The caucus raised their own money and could spend it where they wanted. That is a ridiculous statement,” Max said of Grant’s claim.

“I agree with Steve Pigeon on some issues, and on some I don’t,” he added.

Max also said that Pigeon is being singled out for doing things that other local politicians have also done, “and those people aren’t under investigation. There’s a double standard here.”

Kennedy emailed a statement saying that Grant’s accusations against him are “politically motivated and not based in fact.”

Kennedy said his only involvement with Pigeon’s committee was “a legal and well-documented donation.”

Former TV reporter

Mazurek’s cooperation with authorities in the corruption probe is the latest chapter in an eventful life for the 44-year-old Cheektowaga native.

The former TV reporter grew up in a political family, battled ovarian cancer over the past 14 years, and blew the whistle on a sexual harassment scandal that knocked Dennis H. Gabryszak out of his seat in the Assembly last year.

She is closely associated with Pigeon, a political maverick who has waged a war with leaders of the Erie County Democratic committee.

“I think her cooperation in the investigation could be very significant,” said Mark A. Sacha, a Buffalo attorney, former Erie County prosecutor and Pigeon rival whose complaints to government agencies also helped touch off the current investigation.

“Kristy may know all the true sources of the money that came in to the caucus. She may not. Seems to me, she is the first person a prosecutor would want to talk to about the money trail.”

Mazurek was described as “a good person who is very aggressive politically” by her friend, Tony Farina.

Farina said he first met Mazurek in the early 1990s when she did undercover work for him as an intern at the WKBW television station where they both worked.

Farina recalled the young Mazurek as a “bright, enthusiastic” student who seemed eager to make her mark in TV news. Although she worked for TV stations in Atlanta and several other cities, her health problems and a lack of opportunities derailed Mazurek’s career, Farina said.

After that, she got into politics, and wound up working with Pigeon.

“I think she got into politics because she wanted to see changes made,” Farina said. “She wanted to make the world a better place. I think that’s what she is driven by.”

Harassment complaint

In 2008, Mazurek landed a $52,000-a-year job as Gabryszak’s communications director in the Assembly. She left the job in May 2009, and in 2013, she and Pigeon helped organize a group of women – former employees of Gabryszak – who made formal sexual harassment complaints against the Democratic assemblyman from Cheektowaga.

Mazurek filed her own complaint against Gabryszak in January 2014, alleging that he repeatedly upset her by making lewd, suggestive comments. When she complained to an office superior about Gabryszak’s remarks, her pay was cut in half, Mazurek alleged.

Several days after Mazurek became the seventh woman to file a complaint against Gabryszak, he resigned from office.

Some Democrats viewed Mazurek as a potential successor to Gabryszak, but she never made a run for the seat.

Pigeon’s critics suggested that one of the reasons why he and Mazurek organized the women to file complaints was that Pigeon wanted a Democratic Party primary in Gabryszak’s Assembly District. The critics suggested that the Assembly primary would ensure that many white voters in Cheektowaga also would show up to vote in the State Senate primary and help Kennedy win his 2014 primary against Grant, who is black. The Assembly and State Senate districts overlap.

The fact that Kennedy donated $85,000 to the Pigeon caucus helped fuel the allegations.

Kennedy did defeat Grant in the 2014 primary, but Pigeon told The News that anyone who suggested that the sexual harassment case was designed to help Kennedy was “delusional.”

Gabryszak’s “own behavior” with women led to his downfall, he said.

Starting in late 2011, Mazurek also participated as a co-host in a TV debate show called “2 Sides” on WGRZ, but she was removed in September 2013 after the TV station received complaints about her political activities. A Channel 2 executive said some viewers accused Mazurek of having a conflict of interest because of her “high-profile position” in election issues and the selection of candidates.

Caucus complaints

Grant, Sacha and former Erie County Legislator Timothy Hogues all confirmed that they have complained to authorities about the alleged misuse of the caucus and its money.

In February of this year, Pigeon acknowledged that mistakes have been made in some of the caucus’ financial documents, but he said the mistakes were later corrected and added, “there was nothing criminal.”

Mazurek also told The News in February that mistakes had been made but insisted the caucus broke no laws. She blamed political enemies for making complaints about the caucus.

“My suspicion is that she was, at least to some degree, a pawn in all that happened,” said Sacha.

While a source close to the investigation said Mazurek is “under a lot of pressure” from investigators, Damien LaVera, chief spokesman for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, said he could not discuss the status of Mazurek or any other person in the investigation. He also said he could not comment on why the home of Mazurek, the caucus treasurer, was not searched.

Grant told The News that, despite her anger over the alleged actions of the caucus, she likes Mazurek.

“She seems like a nice individual, smart and astute. Unfortunately, I think she got pulled into something she really didn’t think through,” Grant said.

Grant added that she feels sorry for Mazurek and anyone else who has fallen under the scrutiny of federal and state investigators.

“But I feel much more sorry for anyone who was unfairly targeted by the caucus,” Grant said. “They ran vicious campaigns. They put some candidates and their families through a lot of heartache.”

News staff reporter Robert J. McCarthy contributed to this report. email: dherbeck@buffnews.com