BY FRANK PARLATO
Mark Sacha, the former Erie County Deputy District Attorney who is credited for launching the investigation into alleged election law violations of G. Steven Pigeon that led circuitously to his indictment, is now “concerned” that Pigeon’s due process rights are being compromised.
Pigeon was charged by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office of nine felony counts of bribery and extortion.
Sacha, who is running for Erie County DA, claims Schneiderman’s office is “allowing politics to influence” the Pigeon case and that the lead prosecutor for the state, Assistant Attorney General Susan Sadinsky, must be removed because of a “clear conflict of interest.”
“There is no way Sue Sadinsky should be involved in the prosecution of this case,” Sacha said, pointing out that Sadinsky was the former campaign treasurer of the man the state is planning to use as a chief witness against Pigeon — former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who Pigeon is accused of bribing.
Michalek accepted a plea deal in return for testifying in the Pigeon trial.
“(Sadinsky) should not be anywhere near this case,” Sacha said, expressing surprise that a conflict like this has not been raised by Pigeon’s defense team yet.
“Michalek trusted her enough to put her in charge of his campaign finances, a role of responsibility, confidentiality and probably friendship as she accepted the role in a voluntary capacity. She cannot prosecute this case since she is too close to one of the witnesses.”
After a lengthy investigation into possible election law violations by investigators, Pigeon was charged in June, 2015 by Schneiderman with bribing Michalek and extorting a young attorney, Ed Betz, who was appointed by then Judge Michalek to a receivership.
The charges had nothing to do the publicly announced cause of the original investigation but were the fruit of a search warrant on Pigeon’s home where emails found on Pigeon’s cell phone between him and Michalek are alleged to be evidence of bribery. Emails revealed that Michalek asked Pigeon to find a job for his son, a position for his wife and a recommendation for himself as an appellate judge.
As previously reported in Artvoice, Pigeon did not deliver on any of these requests, and Pigeon was known to be a longtime family friend of Michalek.
The prosecution has said that during the time Michalek was asking for favors, Pigeon, who is a lawyer, had two clients before Michalek. It remains unclear if Pigeon’s clients received any benefits from Michalek’s rulings since the court records show that both cases were settled out of court without Michalek making a final or substantive ruling.
The government has also alleged that Pigeon provided Michalek and his wife with two hockey tickets to two Buffalo Sabres games.
Michalek has pleaded guilty to two felony counts of soliciting a bribe from Pigeon.The former judge will be disbarred but his plea deal ensured the preservation of his $120,500 annual pension.
Pigeon’s lead defense attorney, nationally known criminal and First Amendment lawyer, Paul Cambria, has raised discovery issues that clearly suggest that the defense seeks to probe whether Michalek and his wife, Patricia, may have faced other charges.
Both Michaleks were interviewed separately by FBI agents, according to court papers filed in this case.
Pigeon’s defense has raised the question of whether both Michaleks may have faced charges of making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001) to federal agents.
Pigeon’s attorneys sought to obtain Michalek emails with other attorneys who had cases before the former judge to ascertain whether Michalek’s communications were similar to those that led to Pigeon’s charges.
As lead prosecutor, Sadinsky helped negotiate the plea deal for Michalek, which required his testimony against Pigeon in return for the state not asking for prison time for Michalek or pursuing other charges.
Attorney Peter A. Reese represents David Pfaff, a longtime ally of Pigeon and a subject of the original phase of the Pigeon investigation concerning election law violations.Reese has been an outspoken critic of the Pigeon investigation.
“I cannot imagine the threats and intimidation which were applied to Judge Michalek,” Reese told Artvoice.
Pigeon’s defense team is also seeking from the government any emails it possesses from Betz, the young attorney Pigeon is alleged to have extorted, which are in the government’s possession and to learn if any threats of prosecution were made by the government to Betz to encourage his cooperation.
As previously reported in Artvoice, while Betz is expected to testify he was extorted by Pigeon for $5,000, Betz continued to accept referrals from Pigeon after the alleged extortion.
The defense is expected to present evidence that Betz obtained lucrative legal work from Pigeon including work for Pigeon ally, prominent Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei, worked as Pigeon’s own business attorney on several matters for which Betz’s firm billed Pigeon, and Pigeon referred Betz several clients including wealthy Seneca businessman Aaron Pierce.
In total, Betz received more than $150,000 from clients referred to him by Pigeon after the alleged extortion of $5,000, according to sources contacted by Artvoice including Pierce.
Following Pigeon’s arraignment, where he pleaded innocent to all nine counts alleged against him, a reporter asked Pigeon’s attorney, Cambria, if he thought politics played a role in the prosecution.
Cambria responded, “… I think the community will make its own judgment as to whether or not politics are involved in this case once all the evidence comes in the courtroom.”
Local political insiders have commented privately that there is an array of past political adversaries of Pigeon aligned with the prosecution – including the Attorney General himself – Schneiderman had a bitter and well-publicized feud with Pigeon in Albany in 2009 – but no one spoke out publicly about political considerations in the prosecution’s team other than Cambria’s response to a reporter’s question.
“There is no way Sue Sadinsky should be involved in the prosecution,” Sacha said.In the past, Sacha has publicly stated that Erie County District Attorneys Frank Clark and Frank Sedita should have recused themselves on the Pigeon election law investigation which Sacha supervised in 2008.
Sacha is now running for DA himself and says he is “concerned” about the due process rights of the very man he sought to indict: Steve Pigeon.
“I am concerned that politics are influencing the prosecution,” Sacha told Artvoice.
“Just as I asked (his former DA bosses), Frank Clark and Frank Sedita to recuse themselves because they were close to Pigeon, the lead state prosecutor in the Pigeon case must recuse herself because she is too close to (the prosecution’s witness against Pigeon) John Michalek.”
Sacha said that the prosecution’s job is to seek justice, not convictions, and that no one is above the law and that includes the prosecutors whose power he says has grown in recent years.
While stopping short of saying Schneiderman should recuse himself and appoint a special prosecutor, Sacha said it should be “examined.”
“A prosecutor should recuse himself whenever there is a conflict – whether there is friendship with the defendant or witnesses or whether there is adversarial political history,” Sacha said.
“In light of Ms. Sadinsky’s clear political conflict of interest and the three-year delay in addressing the possible election law violations, Attorney General Schneiderman gives the appearance that he is allowing party politics to influence his handling of this case,” Sacha said.
When reached by phone, Sadinsky declined comment because, she said, the policy of the Attorney General is to refer all press inquiries to the Albany press office.
When asked about the conflict issues raised by Sacha, Casey Aguglia, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s press office in Albany told Artvoice, “It is our policy that we do not comment on any open matters.”