Powerful NY political operative Steve Pigeon arraigned on bribery, extortion charges

Steve Pigeon, the longtime Western New York political operative, has been arraigned on nine separate counts, including bribery and extortion, after probes from state and federal law enforcement authorities into his connections to a state Supreme Court judge.

Pigeon plead not guilty to all nine felony counts in state Supreme Court this morning and posted bond after being indicted on charges – the most serious of which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years – related to his relationship with former state Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who plead guilty to two charges and resigned yesterday.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office took the lead in a joint investigation with the FBI, described the relationship between Pigeon and Michalek as “clear corruption from the bench,” during a press conference in downtown Buffalo, where he laid out the charges against the political operative.

“The facts alleged in these cases are exactly why so many New Yorkers have lost faith in government institutions and their representatives,” Schneiderman said.

The attorney general went on to say that the kind of horse trading exhibited in the complaint against Michalek and indictment against Pigeon has to stop.

“Enough is enough,” Schneiderman said. “I believe very strongly in the American system of elected democracy. I believe in the independent judiciary, and corrupting that system is something that every American should take offense at.”

Last year Pigeon’s home – as well as the homes of Chris Grant, the former chief of staff to Rep. Chris Collins, and former Deputy Mayor of Buffalo Steve Casey, neither of whom have been charged – were raided as part of the investigation.

Emails gleaned from those raids showed arrangements between Michalek and Pigeon, who had business before the judge, as did Pigeon’s political and business allies. Michalek asked Pigeon to help him get appointed to the state Supreme Court’s appellate division and to help relatives find jobs, something Pigeon said he would try to do. In addition, Pigeon gifted box tickets to Buffalo Sabres games to the judge and secured a seat to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, taken by one of Michalek’s relatives. In exchange, the judge passed along information and advice on trials he was overseeing to Pigeon, according to court documents.

The indictment against Pigeon and Michalek’s plea deal do not conclude the probe, which both Schneiderman and FBI representatives described as “ongoing.”

“This was not the only part of the investigation,” Schneiderman said.

Pigeon, the one time chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has for two decades developed relationships with powerful New York political and business figures, including Cuomo, billionaire Paychex owner B. Thomas Golisano and former Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, who recently became a state Supreme Court judge. During that time he has often been the subject of controversy, faced multiple accusations of skirting election law and used dirty political tactics often aimed at members of his own party with whom he was warring. Pigeon also became embroiled as a key figure in the infamous state Senate coup of 2009, which essentially shut down the Capitol for almost a month.

Schneiderman said that situations like that which developed between Michalek and Pigeon not only dishonor the judiciary and political system, but they dissuade good people from participating in government, whether that be through voting or running for office themselves.

“It’s important to recognize that most public servants are here to do their job and to do public service,” Schneiderman said. “Those that abuse the public trust, we will pursue, not matter how well connected they are, no matter how polished they might be. The idea of equal justice under law demands no less.”

Correction: A previous version of this story said that U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara’s office was involved in the investigation, but his office is not involved. Schneiderman and the FBI are solely conducting the investigation.