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Robert McCarthy: Questions for Cuomo are met with silence

Steve Pigeon was back in court a few days ago, facing a judge for the third time in the last 10 months. This time the former Erie County Democratic chairman appeared in U.S. District Court to answer more questions about his controversial fundraising methods.

A federal complaint alleges that Pigeon, a longtime confidant of Andrew Cuomo, conspired to solicit a $25,000 contribution to the governor’s 2014 campaign. The donation allegedly originated with a Montreal-based internet gambling company that paid Pigeon’s Papi Holdings LLC $388,000 in lobbying fees from 2010 to 2015.

The FBI now says Pigeon conspired to hide the true source of the foreign contribution for a Manhattan event featuring the governor. He denies the allegation, claiming he is the victim of a political “witch hunt” and an overzealous FBI.

All of this will be sorted out in due time. Meanwhile, the federal government is not the only entity with questions. The Buffalo News would like to ask a few, too.

The governor’s press office routinely refers political questions to the state Democratic Party. So The News placed three calls to Basil A. Smikle Jr., the party’s executive director. He did not return any.
That leaves nobody to answer questions surrounding Pigeon’s most recent court appearance, which have everything to do with the Cuomo campaign. Asking questions of the Cuomo political team seemed like the right thing to do.

The party’s response was to issue a “statement,” which indicated the Cuomo campaign followed all rules and regulations. But it did not answer questions that seemed relevant in view of the Pigeon connection.

Nevertheless, if anyone in Cuomoland ever returns a phone call, here are the queries The News would pose:

• Has the governor been interviewed by law enforcement? Was he subpoenaed?

• Was anyone in the campaign interviewed by law enforcement? Were they subpoenaed?

• The federal complaint outlines a series of emails between Pigeon and others as they sought a $25,000 donation from a Canadian businessman, whom Pigeon referred to as David Baazov, CEO of Montreal-based Amaya Gaming Group. Pigeon maintains he followed all legal avenues in seeking the donation, and that Florida attorney Marlon Goldstein simply accepted an invitation to the dinner without connection to Baazov.

Did Baazov attend the Manhattan dinner for the Cuomo campaign? Did Goldstein?

• Pigeon attorney Paul Cambria emphasized to the press that Cuomo campaign officials knew all about the efforts to obtain the donation.

Did they?

• A political action committee called America Rising – obviously no friend to the governor – has called on Cuomo to return the $25,000. Others ask the same question.

Will the campaign return the money?

• The Pigeon case is now dragging the Cuomo campaign into the mud.

Does the campaign believe the charges have any merit? Does it also view the case as a “witch hunt?”

• The U.S. Attorney’s Office and FBI indicate the case remains under investigation.

Has anyone in the campaign retained a lawyer?

• Announcing the complaint, acting U.S. Attorney J.P. Kennedy explained why Baazov’s original donation was not accepted:

“That donation was twice rejected by the campaign, first because it came from a corporation, contrary to state law,” he said. “The second time, it was returned because it came from someone not a United States citizen. The third time was the charm as Pigeon and the foreign national orchestrated the $25,000 donation be made through a U.S. citizen.”

Why was the third time the “charm?” And who was the campaign’s point person?

Cuomo has long championed transparency in state government, dating to his days as attorney general and his Project Sunlight database. But nobody in his world appears interested in this case.
The News remains interested. So do its readers.

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