Mark A. Sacha says that if elected district attorney, he will investigate two political players – both squarely in an opponent’s camp – for possible election-related wrongdoing that New York’s attorney general has yet to address in his probe of Erie County’s best-known operative, G. Steven Pigeon.
Sacha, lamenting that more information about Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s investigation will not come to light before the Democratic primary Tuesday, said he would examine the actions of James J. Eagan, a politically active businessman, and Peter A. Reese, a lawyer who offers his Election Law expertise to many candidates.
While both are now busy helping acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty as he seeks his first four-year term, they also were instrumental in Richard E. Dobson’s race for Erie County sheriff back in 2013. Dobson’s candidacy benefited from spending by a Pigeon-controlled political fund, the WNY Progressive Caucus. Sacha and others suspect the caucus coordinated its spending with the Dobson team, a potential Election Law violation.
“I would certainly be looking at their involvement in the coordination that appears to clearly have occurred in the 2013 election cycle," Sacha said. “And coordination is a crime."
Both Eagan and Reese scoffed at Sacha’s suggestion that they did something illegal or that coordination occurred. They said Sacha’s vow smacks of a desperate attempt to bolster his slim chance of winning Tuesday’s three-way primary. If he loses, Sacha will remain a lawyer in private practice – his situation since then-District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III fired him in 2009 for publicly criticizing Sedita’s refusal to go after Pigeon.
Those who have watched the county Democratic Party’s squabbles over the years view the Dobson campaign as a clear example of how an anti-headquarters faction works to thwart candidates backed by Democratic Party leaders. Dobson won the party primary against the headquarters-backed Bert Dunn. His campaign then went into a slumber heading into November, when Republican incumbent Timothy B. Howard won another term.
While spoiling things for headquarters is no crime, state election law blocks independent fundraising committees from coordinating their activities on a candidate’s behalf with the candidate’s own campaign force. Pigeon’s critics say that’s just what happened in several races with the independent fundraising committees he controlled and the candidates he favored.
At key points leading up to the 2013 primary, the Pigeon-controlled WNY Progressive Caucus spent more money on Dobson’s behalf than his own campaign fund. By modern standards, the Dobson campaign was sorely underfinanced for a countywide race. It raised and spent less than $100,0000, making it more reliant on the Progressive Caucus for whatever traction it could gain.
Schneiderman, who was urged to examine electioneering in Erie County, secured Pigeon’s indictment in May, but not on election-related charges. Pigeon is accused of bribery-related felonies in connection with his relationship – exposed by government-seized emails – with John A. Michalek when he was a State Supreme Court justice. Michalek was charged, too. He resigned, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in the case against Pigeon.
Sacha still maintains that Pigeon and others should face election-related charges as well. In recent weeks, more information has emerged to confirm that state agents, early on, were clearly interested in election law violations. Court papers obtained by The Buffalo News indicate that agents, with their search warrant, were after Pigeon’s Progressive Caucus records, among other things. In addition, Pigeon associate David Pfaff has told the publication Artvoice that the agents who approached him were focused on election-related wrongdoing. Agents approached Dobson, too, to ask about the campaign.
While Schneiderman has said the investigation isn’t over, Sacha fears political influences will cool it as the weeks and months pass. He also wonders why Flaherty would surround himself with political players even remotely associated with Pigeon. The campaign team for the headquarters-backed John J. Flynn has voiced similar sentiments.
Reese and Eagan hotly dispute Sacha’s assertions and his vow to examine their activities if elected district attorney.
“He has been talking about this now for seven years,” Reese said. “It’s his reason for existence. But there is nothing there.
“Do you want a DA running around misusing prosecutorial resources?" he continued. “Do you want a DA whose primary purpose is to prosecute his enemies? I think this is part of his madness.”
That’s why, Reese said, he supports Flaherty.
Eagan served as Dobson’s campaign manager and is now an important figure on the Flaherty team.
“It sounds very desperate accusing someone of a crime five days before Primary Day just for self-serving political gain,” Eagan said. “Mark Sacha is so obsessed with Steve Pigeon, he has become Steve Pigeon.
“Mark Sacha says he stands for the truth. If that’s true, then he should start telling the truth.”
Said Eagan: “There was absolutely no coordination with anyone during the Dobson campaign.”