Mark Sacha stood outside an Erie County courtroom Wednesday and offered a simple message to a phalanx of reporters and photographers.
“I told you so,” he said.
The former prosecutor was fired in 2009 after claiming two successive Erie County district attorneys looked the other way when he alleged G. Steven Pigeon had committed election law violations. Neither former District Attorney Frank Clark nor his successor, Frank Sedita, would dare challenge such a powerful political kingmaker, Sacha claimed.
Sacha on Wednesday witnessed Pigeon appearing for the second time in 10 months before a State Supreme Court justice to answer a criminal complaint of felony election law violations. Again they were lodged by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
Sacha’s prosecutorial career was ruined after telling his story to The Buffalo News in 2009, he said, adding that Pigeon continued to operate freely throughout New York political circles for years after. He also said he was grateful somebody had finally prosecuted people who “blatantly rigged elections in Erie County.”
Sacha also took his complains about Pigeon to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s short-lived Moreland Commission in 2013. Again, nobody listened.
But when he and County Legislator Betty Jean Grant complained to the Erie County Board of Elections that a rogue political committee that Pigeon controlled was running rough shod once again over the law, Commissioners Ralph Mohr and Dennis Ward listened. They found merits in the complaint. So did the state Board of Elections.
Now, Schneiderman has, too. The attorney general Wednesday summoned Pigeon and two long time associates – David Pfaff and Kristy Mazurek – before Justice Donald Cerio to face his complaint. His team said it will present evidence to an Erie County grand jury seeking indictments for each on three election law violations and one count of filing a false instrument.
The felony charges could bring four years in jail.
Pigeon, an attorney, always has maintained that the various independent committees he created over the years could freely raise and spend money. He also has denied any effort to coordinate his efforts with individual campaigns, which is expected to lie at the crux of his defense.
But Schneiderman says the three broke the law in 2013 by coordinating the activities of their WNY Progressive Caucus with the individual campaigns of Richard Zydel and Wes Moore, candidates for County Legislature, and Mark Manna, a candidate for Amherst supervisor the same year.
The attorney general's complaint alleges that Pigeon and Mazurek created the committee to support their preferred candidates, who relied on the committee's money and raised little themselves.
The attorney general said one candidate he did not name raised just $450 between July 12, 2013, and Sept. 16, 2013, while the caucus received $250,000 in contributions.
The complaint alleges that, on behalf of the caucus, the defendants sought input from two candidates regarding campaign literature and arranged for them to appear at a photo shoot it financed.
Another candidate benefited from campaign signs, postage and literature.
While the district attorneys and Moreland Commission ignored earlier complaints, Schneiderman on Wednesday emphasized he “will aggressively enforce our state’s election laws.”
“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,” he said.
Adam Cohen, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office, also weighed in on the case on Wednesday underscoring the possibility of federal charges to come.
“In democratic societies, the voting process is a means by which citizens hold their government accountable,” he said.
A team of four defense lawyers led by Paul Cambria already was dealing with the attorney general’s earlier allegations that Pigeon bribed a State Supreme Court judge. And as sources indicate that federal subpoenas in connection with the Pigeon case have hit the streets in recent days, trouble is mounting for the former Erie County Democratic chairman who once was a confidant of the Clintons and Cuomo.
Sacha seemed to relish the opportunity to step before the cameras. The new state charges unveiled Wednesday are eerily similar to what he alleged against Pigeon almost eight years ago, he said.
“He’s bribing judges, he’s manipulating elections and he’s breaking the law,” Sacha, now a criminal defense attorney, said of Pigeon. “Not only did they do nothing, but they acted to protect him.”
Schneiderman has proven one of New York’s few prosecutors willing to take on the violations of the law that protects the election process. Last year, he charged former Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank Max – a longtime Pigeon ally, with election law violations.
Just last month, he lodged felony election law charges against former State Sen. George Maziarz and his successor, Sen. Rob Ortt.
Sacha still thinks not enough is being done.
“I lost a career for doing the right thing, and the public has not been served by its prosecutors,” he said, “who had a responsibility to protect elections in Erie County and protect the citizens from a corrupt judiciary.
“This is what happens when politics is allowed to infect the entire legal system,” he added.
Sedita always maintained he fired Sacha for insubordination, and claimed his assistant retaliated after he was demoted and his county car taken away. Sedita also insisted he could not pursue the original Pigeon case because Sacha never supplied any evidence that could result in credible charges.
But on Wednesday, Sacha fired one more shot at his former boss, as if to point out what the system he rails against can produce.
“Where was Frank Sedita?” he asked. “He’s a Supreme Court judge now.
“Remember, this is corrupt,” Sacha added. “And the only reason it exists is because it is allowed to exist.”
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