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Pigeon loses another appeal; corruption trial set for October

Barring action by the Court of Appeals, the political corruption trial of G. Steven Pigeon will begin on Oct. 15 as scheduled following a rejection of his motion to suppress evidence seized three years ago at his waterfront condo.

The state Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday that the Rochester-based Appellate Division denied efforts by Pigeon attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. to exclude email evidence taken from laptops and a cellphone gleaned from a raid by state and federal agents on May 28, 2015. They are considered central to the state’s case against the veteran political operative and former Erie County Democratic chairman, who faces bribery and other charges that have already prompted a guilty plea from a former State Supreme Court justice.

Cambria has been waging a complex legal battle for more than a year seeking to deny admission of the emails into the case, contending they were illegally obtained. His arguments centered around precedent-setting issues regarding seizure of emails.

As a result, Cambria filed appeals in both the Appellate Division and Court of Appeals, with his effort before the Appellate Division failing on Thursday. He said Thursday he does not consider the latest action significant, but "procedural."

"All they said is they will not hear the appeal at this time," he said. "There is still an appeal pending on that issue and they did not decide on the merits of the appeal."

In April, Cambria noted the “most efficient” avenue was to pursue his Appellate Division motion that was at least temporarily rejected on Thursday. He also said then that it was important for the email issues to be settled now because any guilty verdict could ultimately be overturned if those issues were not determined beforehand.

State Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Cerio Jr. in March reversed his earlier decision excluding the emails from the case following lengthy arguments from attorneys on both sides. Pigeon continues to fight charges brought by former Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of bribing former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek.

The email evidence prompted Michalek to resign from his $193,000-a-year job and plead guilty in June 2016 to a felony bribery charge and offering a false instrument for filing. He also agreed to become a state witness against Pigeon and is still awaiting sentencing.

Pigeon encountered an additional setback when Schneiderman unexpectedly resigned in April over allegations of physical abuse of several women, since the defendant had argued that the attorney general was pursuing him for political reasons. That argument, whether or not it would have been entered into the trial, could now be removed from consideration.

Meanwhile, the state at this point has prevailed in seeking to preserve as evidence the email communications between Pigeon and Michalek. After Michalek testified before a grand jury, Pigeon was indicted on nine felony counts of bribery, rewarding official misconduct and grand larceny by extortion.

Michalek could receive a sentence of anywhere from probation to seven years in prison, though the maximum penalty is unlikely. Pigeon, if convicted as charged, faces a maximum of 15 years, but also likely would receive less since he has no criminal history.

Pigeon is slated to stand trial during the height of campaign season while his onetime close ally, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, seeks re-election.

Pigeon also faces federal charges for which no trial date has yet been set.

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