By Frank Parlato;
A lawyer who the New York State Attorney General alleges was extorted by Steven Pigeon has left Buffalo. Edward A. Betz, 30, joined the Carlisle Law Firm, P.C. in Ogdensburg, NY.
Ogdensburg, pop. 11,000, is in Saint Lawrence County, about 300 miles from Buffalo and 30 miles from Betz’s hometown of Potsdam, pop. 9,700.
Betz made headlines last year after Pigeon was indicted in New York State Attorney General’s Office prosecution on eight counts of bribery involving a judge and one count of grand larceny by extortion when it became known that the extortion charge related to a $5,000 payment, the state alleges, Pigeon extorted from Betz.
Betz came from Potsdam to attend the University of Buffalo and received his law degree in the fall of 2009. By March 2010, Betz was bartending in Williamsville, NY. He made the acquaintance of Pigeon, and helped the political strategist with various campaigns.
In September 2010, Betz was hired by Pigeon ally, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, as assistant corporation counsel for the City of Buffalo.
After Pigeon ally John O’Donnell was appointed commissioner of the Erie County Water Authority, Betz was hired as associate counsel at the Water Authority for $117,877 per year.
It was shortly after this that Pigeon committed the alleged extortion of Betz.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman explained the charge: “Judge [John] Michalek appointed a lawyer [Betz] that Pigeon had suggested as a receiver even though that lawyer was not on the government list qualified to be a receiver”, Schneiderman told the media.
The Office of Guardian and Fiduciary Services certifies training programs that qualify a person to become a receiver. Betz was aware he was not on the government list. In order to qualify, at most, Betz needed to complete a three hour online or audio course.
But Judge Michalek “pushed it through anyway” as he wrote to Pigeon in May 2012, and Betz took the receivership without taking the three-hour course and wound up being paid $45,000 by the courts.
Schneiderman further explained: “After Pigeon’s associate got the receivership, we allege Pigeon extorted $5,000 in phony consulting fees from that same associate, essentially a kickback from the guy he got appointed as a receiver.”
According to state prosecutors’ more fulsome explanation of the case, the “extortion” was committed after Pigeon tried to pressure Betz into hiring Pigeon “cronies” to work on the golf course property where Betz had been appointed receiver.
Betz refused to hire Pigeon’s cronies, and Pigeon retaliated by instilling such fear in Betz that he paid Pigeon $5,000 by “extortion,” according to court papers.
Betz told no one.
If, as the state alleges, Betz thought he was extorted by Pigeon, he had a duty to report it. Rule 8.3 of the New York State Unified Court System Rules of Professional Conduct requires a lawyer “who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation [i.e. extortion] [to] report such knowledge to a tribunal or other authority empowered to investigate or act upon such violation.”
Instead, Betz continued to accept help from Pigeon. In August 2012, at 27 years old, with only two-year’s experience as a lawyer, Betz was named general counsel for the Water Authority at a salary of $124,000.
After O’Donnell’s term as commissioner ended, Betz, who enjoyed a choice, political plum, courtesy of O’Donnell and Pigeon, was terminated. This may have been the time to break free of Pigeon and his extortion. Betz went into private practice and joined Joseph DeMarie, Daniel L. Schoenborn and Sean D. Schoenborn as a partner in DeMarie, Schoenborn & Betz, P.C.
It was now two years after Pigeon allegedly extorted $5000 from Betz. He was now in private practice with three excellent no nonsense partners. Betz could safely report the extortion [or at least tell his law partners who were senior to him in experience and certainly no lightweights in the legal community]. Betz could at the very least break free from the man who terrified him into paying the exorbitant sum of $5,000. The crime of extortion, by law, requires fear.
But Betz did not report the extortion. Instead Betz accepted client referrals for he and his law firm from Pigeon, including Seneca businessman Aaron Pierce, who paid Betz more than $100,000 in legal fees, and referrals from bigtime Niagara Falls lawyer, John Bartolomei, a Pigeon ally.
Did Betz, as he brought six figure legal work into the coffers of his law firm inform his good partners that the man he was now gladly accepting big money from, had once frightened him so much that he allowed him to commit the crime of extortion for $5,000?
Not only did Betz not turn down the client referrals, but he also accepted cases on behalf of Pigeon himself, becoming Pigeon’s attorney on several legal matters. Betz also worked on campaigns earning money for legal work and for media purchases where commissions were paid. At Pigeon’s invitation, Betz even worked on two political initiatives of B. Thomas Golisano and instead of looking frightened by Pigeon, Betz looked positively delighted as he collected commissions from media buys [which amounted to more than $5,000].
Finally, with Pigeon’s help, Betz was introduced to the then-majority on the Buffalo School Board, including Carl Paladino and Larry Quinn, and the 30-year-old lawyer, Betz, was named as general counsel to the School Board in January 2016, at $160,000 per year. It was unheard of and School Board Member Barbara Seals Nevergold blasted the choice of Betz who had no school district experience for the enormous task of legal counsel for one of the biggest districts in the state.
Betz was replaced, after the school board majority changed, and Pigeon was indicted, and news broke out that Betz claimed he was extorted.
In some quarters inside the quite talkative legal community, Betz’z claim that he was extorted for $5.000 was quite laughable news. Many saw him as a callow young man who had taken all that he could get from Pigeon now shamelessly lying about being extorted to save his skin.
After all, Betz netted around $500,000 from Pigeon’s connections, referrals and support, after he allegedly paid $5,000 as extortion which prompted more than one local legal wag to proclaim “I wish i could get extorted like that.”
Legal worked must have soured somewhat for Betz, for whether you like or do not like Pigeon, to those in the know Betz looked like a fink. For those who might want to retain him he was caught up in scandal. This led some to say that the state, not Pigeon made him a victim; while others said, he didn’t have to make up such a ridiculous lie and he wouldn’t have had a problem.
Meantime, in Ogendeburg, along the St. Lawrence, Betz has already begun to make news.
On February 4, northcountrynow.com reported that the Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce “received a sponsorship donation of $250 from the Carlisle Law Firm for the 11th annual Polar Bear Plunge scheduled for Saturday, March 11, at the Dobisky Visitor’s Center from 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission to the plunge is free.”
Pictured in the story with his new law partners, Preston Carlisle, and Lloyd Grandy, is Betz who, if he split the $250 donation evenly with his partners, contributed $83.3 to the Polar Bear Plunge.
Up in the north country, it is an annual event where people in bathing suits briefly enter the Saint Lawrence River despite the water temperature being about 35 degrees.
It is hoped that some prosecutor will not persuade Betz that he was extorted into giving his share of the Polar Bear Plunge out of fear that he might get dunked himself, not unlike the dunking he got when the state lassoed him into the Pigeon case and made him a laughing stock, but of very small proportions.