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Prosecutor who put away Silver now defends Buffalo judge in probe

A former federal attorney who led the criminal case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is now representing State Supreme Court Judge John A. Michalek.

Michalek, a target of a state and federal investigation into alleged political corruption, has ended his relationship with one of Buffalo’s top defense attorneys, Joel L. Daniels, and hired Carrie H. Cohen, who recently left the federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan to become a defense attorney, three sources close to the situation told The News.

Cohen served as a top aide to Preet Bhahara, the corruption-fighting U.S. Attorney in Manhattan.

Cohen could not be reached for comment, but Daniels and attorney Paul J. Cambria – who represents political power broker Steven Pigeon, another target of the same probe – both confirmed that they are aware of the new arrangement.

“That’s the judge’s choice,” Daniels said of Michalek. “That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

“I can’t think of anyone who would do a better job than Joel Daniels, but I look forward to working with her,” Cambria said.

Legal sources described Cohen as a tough, widely respected prosecutor who, before joining Bhahara’s office, was a top prosecutor with the State Attorney General’s office, which is now running the grand jury probe that is looking at Michalek and Pigeon.

Cohen was the lead trial prosecutor in the case that led to the downfall and imprisonment of Silver, 72, one of the most powerful politicians to serve in Albany in decades. A federal judge on May 3 sentenced Silver to 12 years in prison after his convictions for extortion, honest services fraud and money-laundering.

Cohen told the sentencing judge that the case illustrates that “no one, including Sheldon Silver, is above the law,” according to the New York Times.

Six days after Silver’s sentencing, the New York City law firm of Morrison & Foerster announced that Cohen had joined them as litigator to handle white-collar criminal defense, securities litigation and other matters.

Cohen “has a distinguished record of success in the courtroom, handling high stakes litigation with a particular focus on white-collar and securities cases.” The firm noted that, as a state prosecutor, Cohen was lead prosecutor or co-counsel on several prominent cases, including the prosecution that cost former state Comptroller Alan Hevesi his job.

In 2006, Hevesi pleaded guilty, with no jail time, for using state employees to do personal jobs for him and his family. A state investigation found that one employee, at taxpayer expense, was assigned to act as a chauffeur for Hevesi’s wife. Hevesi later served time in prison for another matter.

The law firm said Cohen is also a bar association leader, an expert in white-collar crime and “a leader in advancing” women in the legal profession.

A state grand jury began hearing evidence in Buffalo this week about Michalek’s alleged political relationship with Pigeon and about a host of emails that Michalek – using his official state court’s email account – sent to the long-time political leader.

The News has reported that Michalek sent emails asking Pigeon to help one of the judge’s relatives get a government job, during a time when a close associate of Pigeon’s had a multimillion dollar lawsuit pending before Michalek. No charges have been filed.

Daniels began representing Michalek several weeks ago. Pigeon has been represented for the past year by Cambria and Dennis C. Vacco, former state attorney general. The investigation is being conducted by the State Attorney General’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s office, State Police, the FBI and other agencies.

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com