Two successive Erie County district attorneys passed on prosecuting Democratic kingpin G. Steven Pigeon in the election fraud case involving Paul T. Clark's 2007 campaign for county executive out of fear of Pigeon's political power, the long-time chief prosecutor of public corruption for the county charges.
Mark A. Sacha, a 22-year veteran of the district attorney's office who until January held its third ranking post, told The Buffalo News that neither District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III nor his predecessor, Frank J. Clark, would act on results of a yearlong probe that he summarized in a 13-page memorandum supported by more than 50 pages of evidence and findings of law.
The evidence that he compiled, Sacha says, shows that Pigeon laundered a $10,000 contribution from former County Executive Joel A. Giambra's campaign fund to Paul T. Clark's unsuccessful campaign to succeed Giambra as county executive.
In fact, Sacha says, Sedita demoted him and cut his pay two days after Sacha handed him the report.
Sacha now calls for Sedita to recuse himself from the case and refer it to a special prosecutor.
Sacha says he is raising serious questions about the integrity of the local elective process, given the refusal of the district attorney's office to prosecute allegations against Pigeon.
In addition, he calls "disingenuous" Sedita's Sept. 11 public statements lamenting the inability of his office to probe election law violations for a lack of staff. He labeled Sedita's inaction "an effort to disguise a blatant conflict of interest and abuse of discretion."
"These matters involve the district attorney's sworn responsibility to enforce the law and do justice in the public interest," Sacha said. "These matters include instances where the power of the district attorney has been used improperly to protect political interests and to retaliate against me for pursuing an ongoing investigation.
"Prosecuting the powerless is easy," he added. "The real test is when you are asked to investigate the powerful. District Attorney Sedita so far has failed the test."
Sedita, in office since Jan. 1, said Sacha's actions stem from the demotion, including the fact that his county car was taken away earlier this year. That resulted from Sacha's alleged misuse of the vehicle, he said.
Further, he maintains that he could not pursue the case because Sacha never supplied a single piece of evidence that he said could result in credible charges. And he maintains that he must be provided a "referral" by the state Board of Elections in order to prosecute election law violations.
"That's so you don't have some county prosecutor wreaking political retribution against people he doesn't like," Sedita said. "That's an absolute prerequisite."
The district attorney added that, upon taking office, he considered the case closed through pleas accepted by Paul Clark and others.
"Sacha never brought this to my attention. He never complained; he never indicated we did something wrong," he said, adding that the demotion stemmed from other reasons than his pursuit of Pigeon.
"It had to do with me knowing who he is and what he's been doing around here for 20 years," he said.
Sacha called the referral argument a "dodge." He said the situation could have been easily investigated under penal laws involving filing of a false instrument, adding that if the district attorney had any interest in pursuing the case under election law he could have picked up the phone and called the board.
"Why stop the investigation?" he asked.
Sacha, 51, said Sedita demoted him from deputy district attorney to handle arson prosecutions after he turned over the Paul Clark report to him. He said Sedita told him he could resign if he didn't agree.
Sacha said Frank Clark earlier had done nothing when shown the same report.
>Case considered unfinished
The election fraud case Sacha investigated led to misdemeanor guilty pleas by former West Seneca Supervisor Paul Clark, political supporter Roger J. Peck Jr. and business executive Michael W. Mullins' company for hiding campaign contributions to Paul Clark.
But Sacha said the case was unfinished, that there were election law violations by Pigeon and Paul Clark's brother, Timothy, head of the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, for hiding contributions.
For Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic chairman, it's another allegation in a long line of charges that he ignores election laws. The Erie County Board of Elections, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer have leveled similar charges.
Pigeon is one of the most powerful political figures in the state, in large part because he is closely associated with Rochester billionaire B. Thomas Golisano. Pigeon supported Sedita in his campaign for Erie County district attorney, directly contributed money to his campaign and helped channel more than $12,000 in additional funds to Sedita's campaign chest.
Pigeon teamed with Golisano to engineer the brief Republican takeover of the State Senate this summer that led to that body's inability to function for nearly a month.
Pigeon's role in the takeover led to his appointment as the $150,000-per-year counsel to Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, a key figure in the summer coup. Espada, a Democrat, organized with the Republicans, then switched back to the Democrats after he was promised a leadership role.
Pigeon had also distributed nearly $5 million to New York candidates from Golisano's Responsible New York political committee in the last election. Through Golisano's influence, he has also emerged as the de facto head of the upstate Independence Party, concentrating even more power in his hands for the much-sought minor party endorsements.
And Pigeon also helped elect Sedita as district attorney by helping him obtain the Conservative Party endorsement, one that Sedita used to get the Democratic endorsement despite Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan's earlier support for another candidate.
>Charges of laundering
In the Paul Clark campaign, Sacha charged, Pigeon took a $10,000 contribution from Giambra's still-brimming campaign account, laundered it through an unregistered (in New York) Pigeon company called Landen Associates, and gave it to Timothy Clark.
Timothy Clark then transferred all but $1,000 of that sum to the Media Co., a company Timothy Clark ran when he worked as a political consultant. Media Co., Sacha said, then made a $9,000 loan to the campaign of Paul Clark, the former West Seneca supervisor and Timothy's brother.
That way, Democrats would not know that the contribution actually came from the politically toxic Giambra, who almost led Erie County into default as county executive. Publicly acknowledging a Giambra contribution would have damaged Paul Clark's campaign.
While the Giambra transaction to Landen Associates was reported to the Elections Board, Sacha said, the transfer to Timothy Clark was not. Concealing the true origin of a political contribution, he said, constitutes a violation of election law.
Timothy Clark refused to comment late Saturday.
Sacha outlined those charges against Pigeon and others in his report and gave it to Sedita on Dec. 30 before Sedita took office as the newly elected district attorney. Previously, he said, he gave the same report to Frank Clark while he was still district attorney. Sedita, like Sacha, was a deputy district attorney at the time.
Sedita, however, said he never read the memo until contacted by The News on Saturday. He also described it as a "close out," a memo summarizing the disposition of the case.
"He didn't hand me the memo; that's b.s.," Sedita said. "I've got a disgruntled employee here.
"There is a memo; I can't deny that," he added. "But he never brought this to the attention of any of his superiors. He's mad, he's hurt, and he doesn't like not being a deputy DA anymore."
Sacha, however, insists that he handed the memo to Sedita in his seventh-floor office on Dec. 30, after he was asked to prepare it by him.
"That's an out and out lie," Sacha responded. "I'll take a lie detector test. Let's see if he will."
On Jan. 2, after Sedita was sworn in, Sedita called Sacha into his office and told him he was demoting him.
"DA Sedita refused to explain the reason I was being demoted and angrily informed me that I could resign if I so wished," Sacha said.
Sacha said he had worked with Sedita for years, considered him a friend, and supported him in the election. He said Sedita hugged him after he pledged his support.
Sacha said the only explanation Sedita gave for his demotion came in a Jan. 15 story in The News, when Sedita said he had fired some workers and demoted others.
"I've wiped out the entire middle level of administration," Sedita told the newspaper. "I'm getting rid of bean counters and pencil pushers."
"I was never a bean counter," Sacha said, saying he has supervised more than 100 assistant district attorneys.
"I was never a paper pusher," Sacha also said, "although I did push my memo into his hands on Dec. 30, 2008."
Sacha said he knows he is putting his career in jeopardy, but said he feels he has to take the steps he's taking if New York's election law is to mean anything.
He said he is speaking out now because Sedita on Sept. 11 told The News that his office lacks the staff and resources to undertake election law investigations.
Frank Clark said he felt that the Paul Clark investigation ended with the guilty pleas from Clark, Peck and Mullins. He said Pigeon was not a target of the investigation.
He said he became convinced after 14 months of investigation, that it was not the job of local district attorneys to investigate election law cases.
"It becomes a real morass," he said. Had the case gone to trial, he said, it would have lasted four to six weeks with no guarantee of a conviction.
>'Everyone agreed' with plea
So, he called the defense lawyers in along with his prosecutors and negotiated guilty pleas.
"I asked all my people, can you live with this plea?" Clark asked. "You've been working on it for 14 months. Everyone agreed with it."
Clark said he can not speak for Sedita, but doubted that Sedita demoted Sacha because of the Pigeon matter.
"A new broom sweeps clean," Clark said.
"I'm very disappointed he would do something like this," Clark said of Sacha. He described Sacha as a very intelligent, hard-working district attorney who worked for him for 20 years.
The investigation into Pigeon and Timothy Clark, Sacha explained, was already completed by both him and the FBI. He said it was always understood his office would prosecute, not the FBI. There was no lack of resources or office staff.
"It is now clear," Sacha said of Sedita and Pigeon, "that the district attorney has given a pass to a political supporter and friend.
"I call upon District Attorney Sedita to publicly acknowledge and rectify his mistakes," he added. "I call upon him to publicly acknowledge his abuse of discretion and conflict of interest regarding the Clark investigation."
Sacha said Sedita should take Cattaraugus County District Attorney Edward Sharkey's lead and recuse himself in a case where he has a clear conflict of interest.
Cattaraugus County Judge Larry M. Himelein appointed Sedita as a special prosecutor in a case involving allegations that the head of the Cattaraugus County Democratic Party was forging election petitions.
Sacha also called on Sedita to share information on the Paul Clark investigation with the state Board of Elections, and to reconsider his stand on election law violations.
As it is, Sacha said, Sedita's policy "is disingenuous, erodes public confidence, and encourages serial violators of the election law to continue their conduct to their own selfish, political and financial benefit."
Questions about Paul Clark's campaign funds surfaced as early as July 2007, when The News reported that he was depositing and withdrawing large sums of his own money into and out of the campaign.
Critics claimed he was attempting to create a false impression of his campaign's strength at financial reporting deadlines to gain endorsements and more contributions.
Clark, a certified public accountant, replied that he simply redirected the loans to interest-bearing accounts and remained committed to using the money in his campaign.
But Board of Elections officials said he was using rare and "very misleading" reporting techniques.
"He's playing games," board spokesman Lee Daghlian said at the time. "The numbers do not reflect what's going on here."
Then, in an October story first reported by The News, campaign volunteer Mullins related that he illegally paid Clark's marketing consultant with two bags containing $20,000 in cash. He also later acknowledged personally paying a campaign secretary, which also was not reported to the state Board of Elections as required by law.
Mullins' company, Aftercare Management Services, later admitted making campaign contributions above the $5,000 corporate limit by writing $6,200 in checks to the Clark campaign. He was subsequently charged with a misdemeanor by Frank Clark, but the fine was levied against his company in an agreement with prosecutors.
Paul Clark and Peck, meanwhile, agreed to the misdemeanor charges of violating state election law in December in a plea deal with former District Attorney Clark, who agreed in return not to pursue felony charges.
Paul Clark acknowledged in December that he "knowingly and willfully" failed to report to his campaign treasurer a $10,000 contribution from Peck, an energy consultant to the Town of West Seneca. He then admitted having Peck pay $10,000 to Joseph J. Illuzzi for "services rendered" on a Web site, where Illuzzi charges politicians significant sums for favorable coverage, and failing to report the payment as required by election law.
Peck, in turn, acknowledged paying the money to Illuzzi -- again for "services rendered" -- and not reporting it. Illuzzi then mounted an extensive campaign on his Web site, accusing Clark's rival in the Democratic primary, James P. Keane, of being a racist.
>Special prosecutor needed?
Diane M. LaVallee, who ran against Sedita last year in both the Democratic primary and as a Republican in the November general election, had earlier called for a special prosecutor to look into Golisano and Pigeon for delivering thousands of dollars to their favorite candidates last October.
LaVallee said neither Frank Clark, nor her opponent, Sedita, should be entrusted to handle the investigation because of Pigeon's support for Sedita.
She said a Pigeon-run political action committee, Citizens for Fiscal Integrity, had given $500 to Sedita. Golisano contributed $5,000 and their mutual friend, Hormoz Monsouri, gave $7,500 to Sedita's campaign.
"A lawyer is obliged to avoid even a semblance of impropriety," LaVallee said at the time. "It is not fair to the people who are making the accusations and it is not fair to the people who are being accused, if the referee of the battle is one of those being paid off by the accused."
Sedita refused to say whether he would recuse himself if he became district attorney and inherited an investigation of a case against Pigeon and Golisano.
"If I felt there was a legitimate question as to my objectivity, I would not hesitate to ask the court to appoint a special prosecutor," Sedita said then in response to LaVallee.
But he didn't think that would be necessary.
"Every time some political operative or political partisan makes an accusation," he said, "it doesn't trigger a special prosecutor."
Sacha, a graduate of the University at Albany and the University at Buffalo Law School in 1985, was named to the district attorney's office in 1987 by Richard J. Arcara, and has steadily moved through the office ranks since then.
He was named City Court bureau chief in 1993 by Kevin M. Dillon, and two years later was appointed head of the district attorney's drug prosecution unit.
After Frank Clark's election, he named Sacha to head the grand jury bureau in 1997, and in 2000, Clark named him as a deputy district attorney, the number three position in the office.
In 2005, Sacha's daughter Rachel was killed in an accidental shooting in their Lancaster home. The Lancaster Police Department investigated and said no charges were warranted.
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