G. Steven Pigeon, one of upstate New York’s most powerful political operatives whose campaign activities spawned controversy for more than two decades, pleaded guilty Friday morning to bribing former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek.
He entered the plea to a felony charge of third-degree bribery before State Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Cerio Jr. who agreed to cap his sentence at no more than a year in jail.
Pigeon admitted using his influence to help Michalek try to get an appointment to the court's Appellate Division; promoting two of Michalek's family members to get jobs; providing a comped $1,000 ticket to a political fundraiser and box seat tickets to two Sabres games to Michalek; and that he got the judge to appoint one of Pigeon's associates as a receiver in a foreclosure case.
Defense lawyer Paul J. Cambria Jr. said he is hoping for a sentence of no jail time for Pigeon which Cambria said would be “absolutely appropriate." Cambria also said that he was "satisfied" with the outcome for his client, the former Erie County Democratic chairman. Cambria noted that although the crime is a felony, the penalty was set at a misdemeanor level.
Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 21. Pigeon remained free on bail while he awaits sentencing.
Pigeon, who Cerio said will likely be disbarred as a lawyer because of the guilty plea, waived his right to appeal.
The case was begun by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The prosecution was continued by the office of state Attorney General Barbara Underwood.
"Steve Pigeon orchestrated a brazen, multiyear scheme to bribe a sitting judge – demonstrating flagrant contempt for the rule of law and the interests of New Yorkers. Now, he’s being brought to justice,” Underwood said. “We have zero tolerance for public corruption. New Yorkers deserve to be able to trust the integrity of their officials – and my office will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable those who violate that trust.”
Email evidence seized during a raid of Pigeon's waterfront condo in 2015 showed Michalek repeatedly asked for Pigeon’s help in gaining a government job for a relative and even for Pigeon to wield his influence in assisting his application for a gubernatorial appointment to the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. Prosecutors say Pigeon engaged in "ex parte communications" with Michalek about lawsuits pending before the judge in which Pigeon had an interest.
Michalek resigned in June 2016 from his $193,000-a-year job and pleaded guilty to a felony bribery charge and offering a false instrument for filing. He had also agreed to become a state witness against Pigeon and is still awaiting sentencing.
The state case against Pigeon, 58, originally took shape on complaints of election law violations. But the resulting charges relate to more serious charges involving the judicial bribery.
Pigeon was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 15, following a rejection of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his condo. Cambria waged a complex legal battle for more than a year seeking to deny admission of the emails into the case, contending they were illegally obtained.
In June 2016, Pigeon was indicted on nine charges including two counts of bribery, six counts of rewarding official misconduct and one count of grand larceny, for the alleged extortion. Had he been convicted of all of the charges, he could have faced up to 15 years behind bars.
At the time Pigeon was indicted, Cambria said his client rejected a plea deal offered by prosecutors.
"There was such an offer made," Cambria said. "But it was not even considered seriously."
The genesis of the case lies with complaints filed by former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha and Erie County Legislators Betty Jean Grant and Timothy R. Hogues, both Buffalo Democrats. Sacha, Grant and Hogues complained to the Erie County Board of Elections over how the Pigeon-connected WNY Progressive Caucus raised $267,000 in 2013 for opponents of several candidates backed by Democratic Party headquarters.
Pigeon is also facing federal charges that mirror the state's case: one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud, three counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of federal programs bribery and three counts of violation of the Travel Act.
Pigeon was separately indicted in December of violating state election laws but prosecutors said his plea Friday satisfies those charges. The AG's office is continuing to prosecute his two co-defendants in the case, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff.