He was the mayor’s gatekeeper, chief political strategist and top policy adviser.
And now, he’s talking to the FBI.
Former deputy mayor Steven M. Casey, the man often credited with orchestrating Byron W. Brown’s climb to power, has met at least twice with FBI agents investigating public corruption, according to three sources with knowledge of the investigation.
No one is certain what Casey is telling the FBI, but the three sources said he is believed to be cooperating with the federal and state probes into political operative G. Steven Pigeon, his former mentor and an on-again, off-again political ally. Pigeon was recently indicted on nine felony counts, most involving bribery.
From Day One, Casey, who has not been charged with any crimes, has said he’s not a target of the investigation, but two of the sources familiar with the probe said they believe he is one now.
And in addition to talking to investigators about Pigeon, Casey also may talking to investigators about Brown, the two sources said.
“That’s the speculation," one of the sources said.
The News reached out to the mayor’s office for comment but received no reply.
The FBI would not comment on the reports of Casey’s cooperation, but the agency’s interest in the former deputy mayor is well known. It’s also no secret Pigeon could face new federal charges on top of the state charges already pending against him.
Casey’s involvement in the Pigeon investigation became front page news when state and federal investigators searched his East Aurora home last year. They also searched Pigeon’s waterfront condominium in Buffalo and the Akron home of Christopher M. Grant, another well-known political operative and former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Collins.
Sources said Grant is no longer a target of the investigation.
At the time of the three searches, the investigation appeared to focus on an independent political committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus and its ties to Pigeon, but sources believe it has since expanded.
“Following the three searches we did in May of last year, there continues to be an ongoing, active investigation," said Maureen Dempsey, spokeswoman for the FBI in Buffalo.
The FBI also has made it clear the Pigeon probe is just one aspect of a larger investigation.
“This is only one prong," Adam S. Cohen, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office, told reporters after Pigeon’s indictment.
Rodney O. Personius, Casey’s lawyer, declined to comment on the reports of his client’s cooperation with the FBI but, in the past, has said Casey is not an FBI target.
Casey’s ties to Pigeon and Brown date back to their days together in the administration of former County Executive Dennis Gorski, and Casey emerged from Brown’s successful run for mayor as his closest confidante, a man many referred to as the “shadow mayor.”
As Brown’s chief of staff, Casey’s power was undeniable. He served as the mayor’s chief adviser on almost everything related to policy and politics. He left City Hall in 2014 to join Scott Congel, a Syracuse developer planning a real estate project in West Seneca.
To hear investigators talk, one of the red flags that led them to Casey, a Democrat, was his work with Grant, a Republican.
They say Casey and Grant worked together behind the scenes on political campaigns, sometimes with Pigeon, and the pay they received was never properly disclosed to the state board of elections.
Investigators, according to sources familiar with the probe, are specifically looking into money Pigeon’s campaign committee, WNY Progressive Caucus, spent on campaign literature created by Grant and Casey.
Pigeon, the only one of the three currently facing charges, has pleaded not guilty, and defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. says his client, “vehemently denies any wrongdoing.” In fact, Cambria said, his client is so sure of his innocence he rejected a plea deal prosecutors offered.
Over the years, Pigeon has emerged as one of New York’s most influential operatives, a man with a wide array of political connections, from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to billionaire businessman B. Thomas Golisano.
Pigeon also has proteges, and one of them is Casey, a native of suburban Philadelphia whose first job in government was with the Senate in Albany.
Casey moved to Buffalo in 1994 and worked for several office holders here before becoming executive director of the Erie County Democratic Party. He eventually joined Brown’s state Senate office and is generally credited with engineering Brown’s successful campaign for mayor.
As deputy mayor, he quickly gained a reputation for discipline, accountability and forceful leadership. He was a second-in-command with the image of a pit bull.
In a 2007 profile, Casey made no apologies for his role as the mayor’s lightning rod. He also suggested that leadership came easily to him, and said that as a kid, he was the captain of every hockey team he ever played on.
“Some people have that ability to lead,” he said. “I always wanted to be in the spotlight and be the leader.”
Even though Casey left the city two years ago, he remains a defendant in a civil suit accusing him and Brown of operating a “pay-to-play” scheme at City Hall. A Cleveland developer, NRP Properties, made those claims after one of its housing projects here was killed by the mayor.
NRP says the deal died because of Brown’s anger over a political ally, the Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse, not getting an $80,000 contract on the project.
The suit is still pending.