Sunday, July 3, 2016
Steven Pigeon, Caught and Charged With Bribery and Extortion
ALBANY, N.Y. >> New York’s cyclone of corruption touched down once again this week, with the arrest of a prominent Democratic operative on bribery and extortion charges and a guilty plea by a State Supreme Court justice in Buffalo.
But this wasn’t just any Democratic operative — it was Steven Pigeon, one of the plotters of the 2009 Senate coup that paralyzed state government for weeks and cost as much as $150 million in lost tax revenue as legislation lapsed. The coup led by Republicans and rogue Democrats fizzled out, but still stands as a potent example of New York’s penchant for political dysfunction.
This week, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman charged Pigeon bribed State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek to secretly influence the outcome of lawsuits pending before his court. Michalek pleaded guilty to two felonies and resigned his judgeship.
“As we allege in today’s indictment, Steve Pigeon engaged in a multiyear scheme to bribe a sitting state judge in an effort to win access and favors for his clients and associates,” Schneiderman said in announcing the arrest and guilty pleas Thursday. “I will not stand for this kind of brazen contempt for the rule of law and the interests of everyday New Yorkers. Anyone who breaches the public trust will be held accountable by my office. Our investigation is ongoing.”
Pigeon has a long history in New York politics, including helping to organize the coup and serving as a senior legislative aide to the infamous former Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), who is now in prison on other corruption charges. Pigeon’s resume includes bucking party leaders to endorse Andrew Cuomo’s ill-fated campaign for governor in 2002, and serving as Rochester billionaire and three-time governor candidate Tom Golisano’s senior political advisor.
He was even present at the creation of Eliot Spitzer’s political career, helping him as Erie County Democratic chairman win the nomination for attorney general in 1998, 10 years before he resigned as governor after being caught hiring prostitutes.
“As far as I’m concerned, thank God for Eliot Spitzer,” Pigeon told the Daily News in 1998.
But Pigeon’s place in state political history rests most securely with the 2009 coup, one of the biggest upheavals in the history of the Legislature.
In April 2009, Pigeon was one of just four plotters who met in a now defunct bar in Albany called Red Square to hammer out the final details of the coup, according to a detailed account of the meticulous planning of the coup that was published in the Albany Times Union in June 2009. The others at the meeting were Senators Tom Libous, Dean Skelos and George Maziarz. Libous and Skelos were subsequently convicted, and Maziarz quit the Legislature while under federal investigation 18 months ago.
According to the paper, the coup was planned by Maziarz, the GOP boss of Niagara County, and Pigeon.
Besides Espada, the other rogue Democrat enlisted by the plotter was Senator Hiram Monserrate, who also ended up in prison.
“We wouldn’t have even tried to do it with a strong governor,” Pigeon told the T-U in 2009, referring to Gov. David Paterson, thrust into the job by Spitzer’s sex scandal. “We wouldn’t even had considered it.”
Fast forward to 2016 and Pigeon’s skill at political string-pulling may turn out to be his fatal undoing.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who brought the charges, said that Pigeon gave gifts to the judge and helped with requests for patronage jobs and a promotion. In exchange, Pigeon sought to influence the outcome of legal cases pending before the judge that involved his associates and clients.
Schneiderman accused Pigeon of giving Michalek tickets to Buffalo Sabres hockey games, a fundraiser ticket worth $1,000, and promises to help Michalek be promoted to the Appellate Division of the New York. “As alleged in the complaint, Michalek and Pigeon engaged in ex parte communication, during which time Michalek provided Pigeon confidential insight, and the opportunity to provide confidential input, into matters before the court. Those matters included active litigation in which Pigeon had an interest.”
The judge was also accused of asking Pigeon for help in finding patronage work for two relatives. Also, Pigeon is helped an associate win a lucrative court appointment.
If convicted, Pigeon faces up to 15 years in prison. Michalek, who was first elected as judge in 1995, could face up to 7 years behind bars.
The Buffalo News described Michalek as a highly respected judge with no blemish on his record.
The paper also reported that his late older brother, James, was a scam artist and disbarred lawyer who went to prison in 1993 for swindling millions from senior citizens and banks. He was imprisoned after leading the FBI on a nationwide manhunt for three months.