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Low-level races may snare high-flying Pigeon

For more than a quarter century, Buffalo’s G. Steven Pigeon traveled in lofty political circles.

He hobnobbed with the Clintons and advised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. He counted billionaire B. Thomas Golisano as a friend and former NATO Chief Gen. Wesley K. Clark as a client.

Now three sources familiar with the situation say the former Erie County Democratic chairman is slated to appear in a Buffalo courtroom Wednesday to answer felony complaints that he cheated in elections for County Legislature and a town supervisor. In addition, two sources who asked not to be identified but who are familiar with the case, say subpoenas connected to a federal grand jury probing Pigeon have also been issued in recent days.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s action demonstrates not only that Pigeon may have crossed legal lines in his audacious campaign finance methods, but that despite traveling in rarefied circles, he also would even invest in low-level races near and dear to him.

Almost 10 months after Schneiderman’s special grand jury indicted him on bribery and extortion charges, Pigeon now faces more trouble stemming from what the state calls a scheme to avoid election finance limits. They say he illegally fueled individual campaigns through a committee dubbed the WNY Progressive Caucus.

Pigeon, two associates, to face felony election law complaints

Two longtime associates – Kristy L. Mazurek and David B. Pfaff – are expected to appear in court with him as co-defendants.

Because the independent committee was not bound by most restrictions placed on individual candidates, one source said Schneiderman will contend that the Pigeon-controlled committee illegally financed the campaigns of legislative candidates Richard A. Zydel and Wes Moore along with Amherst supervisor candidate Mark A. Manna in 2013.

Pigeon later supported Manna’s unsuccessful candidacy for Erie County Democratic chairman in 2014.

"Pigeon’s PAC did all the political spending on behalf of these candidates," said the source, "all their literature and photo shoots, and went so far as to pay for their signs and posters. The campaign was run entirely with coordination by Pigeon’s PAC."

Schneiderman’s office would not comment. But a separate source confirmed that a courtroom has been reserved for 11 a.m. Wednesday for State Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Cerio Jr., a judge from Madison County assigned to the case.

Mazurek, meanwhile, served as the committee’s treasurer and has been cooperating for more than two years with investigators, according to previous reports in The Buffalo News. Pfaff was also involved as an operative for the committee.

The nine counts against G. Steven Pigeon, detailed

It is expected the attorney general will present the complaints to a grand jury in anticipation of obtaining indictments.

Schneiderman has emerged as notably aggressive in prosecuting alleged election law violations during recent months, with many of his targets connected to Pigeon. In January, former Cheektowaga Democratic Chairman Frank C. Max Jr. – a longtime Pigeon ally – pleaded guilty to Schneiderman’s accusations of misdemeanor election law violations after initially facing felony charges.

Max’s attorney confirmed then that his client was cooperating with investigators.

"He agreed to answer any questions about his conduct or that of anyone else," defense attorney Nicholas A. Romano of the law firm Connors LLP said then. "Whatever law enforcement asks him to do, he will be an open book. He is cooperating because he has nothing to hide."

Romano added then that the Max case is separate from anything involving Pigeon.

"He has no relationship with Steve Pigeon," Romano said. "This is a separate and distinct case and has nothing to do with Steven Pigeon."

Just last month, Schneiderman also obtained felony election law indictments against former Republican State Sen. George D. Maziarz and his successor, Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda. Maziarz also has long ties to Pigeon dating to their mutual involvement in the 2009 State Senate coup that resulted in a short-lived change in leadership.

Ortt, Maziarz indicted on felony election law violations

The WNY Progressive Caucus raised about $267,000 for candidates challenging those endorsed by Democratic headquarters in the 2013 primary elections. Schneiderman, the FBI and State Police began probing complaints lodged by Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and former Erie County Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha early the next year.

Their complaints to the Erie County Board of Elections were submitted on a bipartisan basis to the State Board of Elections, which referred them to the attorney general.

Pigeon was among those whose homes were searched on May 28, 2015, by law enforcement officials as a result of the probe. The raids also descended upon the residences of former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey and Christopher M. Grant, a former aide to Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence.

The state and federal investigation of Pigeon includes questions about "elevated" payments for advertising, mailings and other political activities, a law enforcement official said at the time.

Questions are also expected to be raised about Pigeon’s own substantial contributions to the caucus. Campaign finance records show he gave about $100,000 of his own money to the fund, while contributing $54,000 to Cuomo in 2011 and 2013. But The News also reported in 2016 that Pigeon owed the federal government about $330,000 in back taxes and that he had negotiated a payback plan with the Internal Revenue Service.

Despite her close association with the caucus as treasurer, Mazurek’s home was not raided by the state and federal agents empowered by search warrants in 2015. But The News shortly afterward reported she was cooperating with authorities.

Then in 2016, Mazurek unsuccessfully ran in the 2016 Democratic Assembly primary, in which her Pigeon associations emerged as a major issue.

Pfaff, a longtime Pigeon operative, has also surfaced in the probe. He acknowledged mistakes in keeping WNY Progressive Caucus records, especially in reporting that Pigeon received $25,000 from the committee for consulting services. Though Pfaff acknowledged listing the $25,000 as an expenditure, he called it a mistake.

He and Pigeon said the money was never received, with Pigeon blaming "sloppy" record-keeping for the entry in the campaign reports.

When Schneiderman hosted a Buffalo press conference last June following the Pigeon indictment, he was joined by Adam S. Cohen, special agent-in-charge of the Buffalo FBI. Cohen emphasized that the federal aspect of the Pigeon probe remained very much alive.

"It’s possible there could be future charges at the federal level," Cohen said then. "This is only one prong of an active investigation by the FBI."

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