For decades, Steve Pigeon always found a way.
A way to infiltrate halls of power. A way to hobnob with elites. A way to raise and spend millions through controversial methods that earned quiet approval from legions of politicians.
So when he appeared in a Buffalo courtroom on June 30, it was under far more humbling circumstances. Pigeon now faced a state Supreme Court judge, was slapped with nine felony counts and had to slink through a back door to avoid the reporters he has long loathed.
A special grand jury convened by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had just returned the indictments. Pigeon’s journey into a hall of power like a state courtroom this time signified a remarkable fall.
Now, Schneiderman’s charges against the veteran political operative and former Erie County Democratic chairman raise as many questions as answers. They include:
• What’s next?
The answer appears to be: more. Schneiderman made it clear on June 30 that his probe is not over. He would not address whether his special grand jury remains in session, but he would not have promised more if he didn’t have more.
For example, the alleged election law violations that sparked the original investigation and the bribery-related charges against Pigeon and former Justice John Michalek remain unexplained. Those complaints have already proved invaluable because they led to search warrants executed at the home of Pigeon and others on May 28, 2015.
Those warrants resulted in a 13-month review of Pigeon’s emails, and eventually led to the Pigeon and Michalek indictments.
But questions about election law violations in Erie County, which then-Gov. David A. Paterson’s counsel pronounced a “pattern” back in 2009, remain unanswered. Those close to the case say enough evidence of such infractions existed last year to authorize search warrants, and that those charges have yet to be addressed.
• Does a federal role loom?
Apparently, a significant one. When Adam Cohen, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI, stepped forward at Schneiderman’s June 30 press conference, it wasn’t to get his mug on TV. He pointedly indicated that a federal probe of Pigeon and related subjects continues.
“It’s possible there could be future charges at the federal level,” Cohen said then. “This is only one prong of an active investigation by the FBI.”
• From where did Pigeon’s money come?
It’s possible federal investigators are asking that question, too.
Pigeon consistently insisted that he had all kinds of personal dollars to contribute to his one passion in life: political campaigns. In February 2015, he even showed a Buffalo News reporter his tax returns to indicate a more than healthy income from various sources.
Pigeon aimed to prove he could afford contributions of around $100,000 to sniveling independent committees like the WNY Progressive Caucus. That’s the Pigeon-connected entity that sparked the interest of state and federal investigators in the first place.
What Pigeon did not display to The News that day were IRS liens now totaling about $310,000. How he had $100,000 for a campaign against a couple of county legislators, but not enough to pay his taxes, remains an intriguing mystery.
• How is this former high roller earning a living?
Paul Cambria, Pigeon’s high-profile attorney who at last report does not work for free, would not answer when asked that question on June 30. But it’s one that must haunt the defendant following the end of his long association with his Underberg & Kessler law firm, the recent rejection by clients of his short-lived lobbying efforts and the required surrender of his passport at arraignment that certainly crimps his overseas business.
• How long will this story continue?
This one is not going away for a long time.