The onetime veteran prosecutor fired in 2009 for alleging that politics was guiding the Erie County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday that he is interested in the job, promising to focus on battling the public corruption that he says was ignored by former District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III.
Mark A. Sacha made headlines in 2009 when he alleged that Sedita issued a political pass to former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon over several election law violations stemming from the 2007 election for county executive. Now, he says he will seek consideration from current Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner for the post following this week’s decision by Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk to forgo a campaign for district attorney this year.
“I am the only person in probably the last 20 years who has prosecuted political public corruption,” Sacha said, referring to his 22-year tenure in the office. “And I wound up being fired for trying to do the right thing.”
Sacha, 58, joins acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr., Sedita’s former top assistant, and former Tonawanda Town Justice John J. Flynn Jr. as expressing interest in the job. Flaherty has launched a flurry of initiatives in recent days outlining his plans for an approach differing on many fronts from his predecessor, including establishing a Public Integrity Unit aimed at political corruption. He also has assembled an experienced campaign team with close ties to the state Democratic Committee and is expected to register at least $275,000 in his campaign treasury following a fundraiser slated for Monday.
Flynn is close to much of the Democratic hierarchy and was a candidate for the job in 2008 until Sedita gained the party endorsement. He also said Thursday that he would work hard to repair the “tarnished image” he says Sedita inflicted on the office.
“I’m the guy to restore the reputation of the office,” Flynn said. “There is a perception in the public consciousness that Frank Sedita would not look at or prosecute public corruption cases, and take on only those cases he was guaranteed to win.”
Flynn said that the office has an “awful relationship” with police agencies and the defense bar and that he would relish running against Flaherty in a Democratic primary in September.
“Mike Flaherty is Frank Sedita,” Flynn said, “even as he tries to distance himself from Frank Sedita.”
Sacha said he will seek the Democratic endorsement and decide later whether he will challenge anyone else in a party primary. He enters without any previous political experience or backing from any party leaders or factions.
“I bring to the table actual experience in doing the day-to-day job of being district attorney,” he said, “but no political experience. And I never wanted it.”
Sacha said he will emphasize his more than two decades as a county prosecutor, including chief of bureaus overseeing Buffalo City Court, the grand jury, narcotics, and special investigations. “Mr. Flaherty’s only position of authority came from being the best friend of the guy he gave political advice to – Frank Sedita,” Sacha said.
Although he was well-known in law enforcement circles, Sacha burst onto front pages in 2009 when he alleged that Sedita and his predecessor – Frank J. Clark – both looked the other way on Pigeon’s suspected violations of election law because of the former chairman’s political powers.
Sacha later complained about a Pigeon-connected political fund in the 2013 county elections, even lodging a complaint with the Erie County Board of Elections and becoming the only Western New Yorker testifying before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s since-disbanded Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.
Pigeon is now the subject of a probe launched last year by the state Attorney General’s Office, the State Police and the FBI.
At the time, Sedita said Sacha’s actions stemmed from the demotion he issued to him and because his county car was taken away earlier that year.
The district attorney also maintained that he could not pursue the case because Sacha never supplied any evidence to produce credible charges.
Sacha petitioned then-Gov. David A. Paterson to appoint a special prosecutor in the case, which Paterson denied.
However, his counsel, Peter J. Kiernan, referred the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and pronounced that in Erie County, there was a pattern of election law violations, including money laundering.