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Former Cheektowaga Democratic boss sentenced in election law case

ALBANY – A once-influential Cheektowaga Democratic Party insider who had close ties to political operative Steve Pigeon was sentenced Thursday to a conditional discharge and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in an election law violation case.

Frank C. Max, who earlier this year pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts, was sentenced by Albany City Judge Joshua Farrell on charges that he filed false campaign finance reports with the state elections board during parts of 2012 and 2013. He could have been sentenced to two years in prison.

Max, 64, has been cooperating with prosecutors as part of his January plea deal.

“They’ve asked me a lot of questions. I had nothing to hide,’’ he said departing the courtroom.

Matthew Peluso, a state assistant attorney general, told the judge that Max has fulfilled the terms of his plea agreement and that he has cooperated with investigators from both Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western New York.

Max is a longtime political ally of Pigeon. Max’s attorney, Nicholas Romano of the Buffalo law firm Connors LLP, would not say what information prosecutors have been seeking from the former Cheektowaga Democratic Party chairman.

“He’s been fully cooperative and has answered every single question that’s been posed to him,’’ Romano said after the sentencing.

Max was charged with failing to report all the financial activities of Progressive Democrats of Western New York, a political action committee that he founded.

The judge sentenced Max to a one-year conditional discharge, meaning there will be no further penalties in the case if he remains out of legal trouble until next November. Max’s health problems kept him from being also sentenced to community service. Since the investigation began more than a year ago, Max has had four strokes, one heart attack, a triple bypass operation and a pacemaker installed.

Romano said his client assumed the PAC’s bookkeeping duties after two treasurers died in 2012 and 2013. He said Max was not computer savvy and could not keep up with technology demands of state election board filings. He stressed Max was not charged with stealing any campaign funds and that the case was over “simple bookkeeping” mistakes.

“I’m sorry. I did the best I could,’’ Max told the judge.

In September 2015, The Buffalo News reported that Max was involved in the local campaign efforts in West Seneca that year in elections in which several incumbents charged Pigeon worked against their re-election campaigns. There have been no allegations in the matter that led to Thursday’s sentencing that the two misdemeanor counts against Max involved the West Seneca elections.

Max has also helped to finance political activities associated with Pigeon. In 2013, the Progressive Democrats of Western New York gave two contributions totaling $5,500 to the WNY Progressive Caucus, a PAC with ties to Pigeon. The Friends of Frank Max campaign account also gave the Pigeon-connected PAC $1,750 that year. In 2015, Pigeon donated $950 to Friends of Frank Max, according to state records.

The PAC controlled by Max has been inactive since July 2016, when it reported having a balance of $1,013.20 to the state elections board. Romano said the PAC has since been formally shut down and Max has not been involved with political matters since his plea deal. The Friends of Frank Max campaign account has been inactive since January 2013, when it reported having just $100 left in the bank.

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