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Cuomo rejects claims that he failed to pursue Pigeon

Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday dismissed as "silly" any suggestion that he failed to pursue a pattern of election law violations in Erie County determined by the counsel to Gov. David A. Paterson.

Cuomo -- the attorney general and also the Democratic candidate for governor -- refused at a morning news conference to take a question about Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio's statements about Cuomo's failure to prosecute election law violations in Erie County.

Cuomo cited the need to separate the politics of his gubernatorial candidacy from his duties as attorney general.

In a later interview with The Buffalo News, however, Cuomo again labeled as "a silly accusation" the Lazio contention that the attorney general could have investigated the Erie County election law violations identified by Peter J. Kiernan, counsel to the governor.

Lazio said Tuesday that the attorney general did not pursue an investigation into Democratic operative G. Steven Pigeon because the former Erie County Democratic chairman wields significant influence in endorsements granted by the state's Independence Party.

Neither Cuomo's campaign nor his office commented on Lazio's remarks earlier this week. But Cuomo on Thursday explained he was satisfied that the governor's counsel referred the matter to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, who is conducting a separate probe that reports say also involves Pigeon.

"I don't have any jurisdiction," he said. "The governor took it because he got a complaint, I think, from a DA originally. And the governor's response was to refer it to the Southern District, [which] has an ongoing investigation."

But he also said he had no basis on which to act on the original complaints of former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha, who told The News last September that despite considerable evidence he had collected, two successive district attorneys of Erie County gave Pigeon a pass on election law violations because of his political influence.

"On what theory? On what jurisdiction? On what facts?" Cuomo asked about his potential involvement. "It's a silly political point."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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