Political operative G. Steven Pigeon was indicted Friday morning on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and bribery.
But at the same time, federal prosecutors asked that a criminal complaint they brought against Pigeon in May about improper donations to the re-election campaign of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2014 be dropped.
Pigeon pleaded not guilty to the federal counts today. And defense attorney Paul J. Cambria said that federal prosecutors filed the new charges against Pigeon because they are concerned that the state case against Pigeon is in trouble. A judge's decision in June to throw out key evidence seriously damaged the state's case, he said.
"I believe these new federal charges today are nothing more than an end-around in which the feds are trying to rescue the state case," Cambria said after a court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael J. Roemer. "I believe they are trying to take that state case from across the street and wash it in the River Jordan here at federal court."
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials had no immediate comment on Cambria's contentions.
The new charges mirror state counts Pigeon already faces in connection with the alleged bribery of former State Supreme Court Judge John Michalek.
Michalek last year resigned from his job, pleaded guilty in state court to receiving bribes from Pigeon and agreed to become a witness against Pigeon.
A federal prosecutor said the charges could bring 20 years behind bars if he is convicted.
In a surprise development, federal prosecutors also asked Roemer to dismiss a charge they filed against Pigeon in late April, accusing him of orchestrating an illegal $25,000 donation from a Canadian gaming company executive to the campaign of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Roemer agreed to dismiss the charge. Prosecutors declined to say why they asked for the dismissal, but noted they can re-file the case at a later date.
"I have always felt that particular case was bogus, and I have said so," Cambria said.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. announced in a news release the eight-count indictment against Pigeon, former chairman of Erie County's Democratic party.
"Bribery of a judge strikes at the very core of our democracy,” said Blanco. “The independence of the judiciary is paramount to civilized society. Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners will pursue any and all attempts to corrupt our fundamental institutions, including the judiciary.”
Pigeon, 56, of Buffalo, is charged federally with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud, three counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of federal programs bribery and three counts of violation of the Travel Act.
The indictment alleges that between February 2012 and April 2013, Pigeon promised employment for a member of Michalek’s immediate family a job with the 2012 campaign to reelect President Barack Obama.
Pigeon also IS accused of offering to help the same family member obtain employment with the U.S. Department of State and of agreeing to help Michalek get an appointment to the appellate division of the State Supreme Court.
In exchange, Michalek allegedly agreed to help Pigeon with favorable judicial decisions appoint a Pigeon friend to a paid court receivership.
"These are essentially the charges they filed in the state case. Now they are bringing them to federal court," Cambria said.
(News staff reporter Matthew Spina contributed to this story.)
Pigeon's lawyer Paul Cambria says federal action "seems a bit much." pic.twitter.com/CDZGq7R6aq
— Matthew Spina (@MatthewSpina1) October 6, 2017