By Frank Parlato
Yesterday, #metoo champion, Ronan Farrow bagged New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a vehement anti-Trump prosecutor who rose to prominence through prosecuting political enemies with a ruthless callowness that seemed to defy justice.
Following Farrow’s bombshell expose in the New Yorker, the loathsome cad announced his resignation effective today. He contested the allegations of abuse, of calling one woman his “brown slave,” and physically assaulting girlfriends; he slapped one until she called him “master.” Slapped another till her ear bled. Smacked a female lawyer hard across the face because she did not want sex with him after he called her a whore.
In a statement, Schneiderman said, “In the privacy of intimate relationships, I have engaged in role-playing and other consensual sexual activity. I have not assaulted anyone. I have never engaged in nonconsensual sex, which is a line I would not cross.”
if the allegations are true, Schneiderman crossed the line. He beat girlfriends and, using the color of his office, threatened them with harassment, arrest, or death if they left, or told on him. We know of four women whom he tormented and abused. I predict within days, we will know of others.
Although the Manhattan DA is investigating some of the sex crimes, a special prosecutor is needed to investigate this psychopathic man. Schneiderman was also, as attorney general, a man who went after his political enemies, seemingly trumping up and inflating charges against them knowing he had the power to destroy. He was above the law for a time.
A special counsel should look at his abuses as prosecutor as well as his abuses of women. A look at his cases against George Maziarz, Steve Richards, Robert Ortt, Steve Pigeon and others show Schneiderman clearly went after political enemies.
After his felony corruption case against former state Sen. Maziarz fizzled out last month after he pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor violation of election law and paid a $1,000 fine, Schneiderman revealed that he got what he wanted after more than four years of investigating.
“… in the case of Maziarz and his cronies, we essentially broke up their [political] machine and I don’t think he would view that as a positive experience,” Schneiderman said. “I think the consequences for him were serious.”
So the role of the attorney general in Schneiderman’s view was to break up [Republican] political machines through indicting a man on false felony charges that are not provable and lead to a petty fine?
Schneiderman’s prosecution of Pigeon, is even worse. Pigeon was charged with bribing a New York State Supreme Court Justice, is ongoing. Pigeon pleaded innocent.
SCHNEIDERMAN AND PIGEON
There was bad blood between Schneiderman and Pigeon since before the time Schneiderman became attorney general.
It began in 2008 when billionaire Tom Golisano and Pigeon operated a political action committee (PAC), called Responsible New York PAC, that spent more than $4 million on races to support Democrats in the state senate. Their plan was to get Democrat control of the senate in return for increased attention to Western New York – traditionally ignored by the New York City majority of legislators.
The 2008 election put Democrats in the majority for the first time since the 1960’s, with a one seat majority – 32 seats (out of 62). Schneiderman had been a state senator for 10 years then. Because Republicans controlled the senate, during his previous tenure, as a minority party member, Schneiderman had little power or prestige.
Now, with Democrats in the majority, Schneiderman rose to deputy leader of the senate. Things went awry when Golisano and Pigeon observed that the NYC Democrats were not honoring their earlier WNY commitment.
Pigeon met Schniederman at Justin’s Restaurant on Lark St. in Albany and asked him to intercede with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. The meeting was unproductive. Pigeon persuaded two Democrat senators — Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate to organize with Republicans. The coup giving Republicans a majority in the Senate for a day. Democrats persuaded Monserrate to return. Espada remained with the GOP and a deadlocked senate was the result. .
Schneiderman, a lawyer, devised the Democrat’s litigation strategy to combat the deadlock as it spilled into court. Schneiderman wrote to his constituents. “This shameless takeover attempt is undemocratic.”
State Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. recalled, “In 2009 when the coup … happened, the head behind it was Steve Pigeon. Eric Schneiderman was one of the shining stars in the Senate Democratic conference, and from that time, there has been bad blood.”
According to witnesses who spoke to Artvoice, after the coup, Schneiderman and Pigeon met in a parking lot of a hotel in Albany.
Schneiderman was wroth, and, according to all three sources, he threatened Pigeon with retaliation for his role in the senate coup.
“There was a threat. He vowed a vendetta,” said Gary Parenti, a Pigeon friend, who witnessed the scene.
SCHNEIDERMAN MOVES ON
The next election cycle saw Democrats lose the senate majority. Schneiderman left the senate, and ran for attorney general in 2010.
Deepening the rift between the men, Pigeon supported Kathleen Rice as democratic candidate for attorney general. Rice narrowly lost the primary to Schneiderman, 34% to 32%.
Schneiderman went on become one of the most partisan prosecutors in history – indicting Republicans on bogus or minuscule offenses after overcharging them – leading to million dollar taxpayer funded misdemeanor convictions and dismissals of indictments.
But it did not matter. Schneiderman had figured out what all corrupt prosecutors know: The indictment alone is enough to ruin a man. You needn’t convict him. He’s ruined as soon as he is charged. [Something Schneiderman may learn personally.]
if there was one enemy he wanted most, it was Steve Pigeon. He led the charge to investigate Pigeon based on a misdemeanor election law charges.
WELL PUBLICIZED RAID
That Pigeon was Schneiderman’s target, the pubic learned, when Pigeon’s home was raided by law enforcement agents on May 28, 2015.
It was reported that agents were searching for evidence of election law violations connected to a Political Action Committee Pigeon had allegedly operated. Representatives from most of WNY’s media outlets were on hand for the raid. Waiting outside Pigeon’s waterfront condo, as law enforcement agents searched his home, and left with his cell phone and computer, they filmed and took notes of the event.
Some assume Schneiderman ordered agents to leak the raid to reporters. It was not clear how the media got there before or contemporaneously with the arrival of law enforcement.
THE JUDGE WAS NOT HIS FRIEND
The warrant authorizing the raid on Pigeon’s home was signed by Schneiderman ally, Erie County Judge Michael Pietruszka. It is not known what legal arguments Schneiderman used to persuade Pietruszka that a raid of a man’s home for the seizure of documents concerning misdemeanor election law violations was needed and that a simple subpoena wouldn’t do.
But Schneiderman -clearly judge shopping – picked his judge well.
Like Schneiderman, Pietruszka had a political beef with Pigeon dating back to the 1990’s, when Pigeon was Erie County Democratic Party Chairman. Pigeon overlooked Pietruszka and chose instead to endorse Eugene Fahey for state supreme court justice. In front of numerous witnesses, Pietruszka came to Pigeon’s office and had a loud and contentious argument with him. Pietruszka ultimately became a county court judge, but never made it to the bench in state supreme court.
It seems no accident that Pietruszka was chosen to sign a seemingly capricious search warrant. It was almost unheard of then — a search warrant of a lawyer’s home for documents concerning his role in various political campaigns – for which he could be charged at best with misdemeanor election violations.
NOT INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
After Schneiderman orchestrated the raid on his home, Pigeon’s life was in shambles. Picture your own home suddenly raided by a swarm of armed men [with the media in attendance] who search your every possession and walk off with your computer, cell phone and your private papers– over misdemeanor violations.
The subsequent wave of publicity however, including the fact the Schneiderman was out to get him, caused Pigeon’s legal and consulting clients to run away in droves. Pigeon’s law firm, Underberg and Kessler parted company with him. The Seneca Nation of Indians announced it canceled its contract with Pigeon. Modern Disposal ended their consulting contract. Pigeon was a pariah in the legal and consulting field.
I’M WITH HER
Prior to the raid, Pigeon was assisting Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House. He had recently raised $100,000 for the Ready For Hillary PAC. He also donated $2,700 to Hilary’s campaign personally. On the day after the raid, the Clinton campaign returned the $2,700 to Pigeon. The Hilary PAC kept the $100,000. He was no longer welcome to help Clinton.
A CHANGING INVESTIGATION
After the raid, about a year passed before the Buffalo News reported – some say it was leaked to them- that emails found on Pigeon’s phone or computer [seized during the raid] caused Schneiderman to veer from the original purpose of the investigation: election law violations – to bribery charges involving Pigeon and his friend of 40 years, State Supreme Court Justice, John A. Michalek, 65.
Schneiderman’s office led a special grand jury to indict Pigeon and Michalek based on an alleged two-way bribery scheme – conducted not in whispers and bags of cash – but through emails.
Michalek accepted a plea deal admitting to one count of bribe-receiving and one count of offering a false instrument. He resigned his judgeship, lost his law license, and kept his annual $120,500 state pension.
As part of the deal, Schniederman agreed to make no sentencing recommendations (usually prosecutors argue for tough sentences for corrupt judges) in return for Michalek testifying against Pigeon.
Pigeon faced up to 15 years if convicted on all counts.
WHAT DID THEY BRIBE EACH OTHER WITH?
Schneiderman alleged an unwritten “understanding” existed between Michalek and Pigeon that the judge would engage in “official misconduct which advanced Pigeon’s interests”. In return, Michalek allegedly accepted “benefits from Pigeon.”
What did the two men get as a result of their alleged bribery scheme?
EMAILS IN EVIDENCE
Much of the case depends on emails exchanged by the two men, Schneiderman’s interpretation of them and circumstantial evidence.
Schniederman’s office alleges, “Emails written between Pigeon and Judge Michalek illustrate the official conduct that Judge Michalek engaged in and the benefits that Pigeon provided to him and his family members.”
Michalek’s emails are chatty, lengthy, and include discussions of his personal health, family matters, business and political observations, as well as thoughts about cases Pigeon had before him. Pigeon’s replies were short. As a possible explanation of the personal tone in Michalek’s emails, Pigeon and Michalek were personal friends for 40 years.
Pigeon worked on Michalek’s campaigns for judge and his wife’s campaign for Town Supervisor of Hamburg. They spoke often. Pigeon knew his children.
In addition to emails, court documents allege Pigeon and Michalek met for “breakfast, lunch and coffee at various times.”
THE CASES MICHALEK ALLEGEDLY HELPED PIGEON
Schneiderman’s office alleges “At the same time that Judge Michalek sought benefits from Pigeon, Pigeon had an interest in lawsuits pending before Judge Michalek. During this period, Judge Michalek kept Pigeon apprised of the status of the lawsuits, engaged in ex parte communications with Pigeon about them, sought Pigeon’s advice and input on various issues that arose when the cases came up on his calendar, provided Pigeon with advice as to how the cases should be handled, and made favorable rulings in certain situations to protect Pigeon’s clients and business associates’ interests.”
Schneiderman focused on two cases, both involving Palladian LLC, a West Seneca, N Y health care company. Pigeon was consultant and attorney for Palladian.
What was the end result of the cases? Schneiderman does not mention that in the indictment. One case was a lawsuit filed by Palladian against HealthNow, alleging HealthNow misappropriated corporate trade secrets. The case settled out of court, for an undisclosed financial settlement. The outcome was decided by the parties not by Judge Michalek.
The second case was an inter-company dispute between Pigeon’s clients, against another Palladian member, Summer Street Capital II, over control of Palladian. That case also settled out of court, but led to a poor result. Pigeon’s clients lost control of the company.
Michalek did not make a ruling on the merits of either case. Michalek’s alleged “favorable rulings” were procedural, not substantive and based on law. If an active bribery scheme was in effect, why didn’t Pigeon take the case to trial where his corrupt judge would rule in his favor?
MICHALEK’S THREE WISHES
What did the judge get in return? In emails, written over the course of three years, Michalek asked Pigeon for help on three matters.
These strike me as not help asked in return for illegal favors, but favors a friend might ask another friend to do. The first request [or bribe] was the judge asked Pigeon to help find a job for his son, John Conner Michalek.
[Michalek’s other son, distraught over the disgrace of his father and surely other matters, committed suicide- another casualty of this unjust prosecution. This tragedy I lay at Schneiderman’s doorstep.]
According to sources, Michalek and his wife, Patricia thought, if John Connor found a good paying job, he might abandon his plan of joining the armed services and going overseas to Afghanistan.
Pigeon knew John Connor since he was a baby and sympathized with his worried parents. Pigeon was unable to find the young man a paying job.
Pigeon did however in 2012, get John Conner a voluntary (unpaid) position in the Obama presidential campaign that lasted one week. Despite his parents’ wishes, John Conner joined the Navy and was stationed overseas.
The judge also asked Pigeon to see if, through anyone of his connections, could get his wife, Patricia, an unpaid appointment to some government task force or committee on education. Such an appointment, while unpaid, offers prestige and maybe social opportunities.
In Jan. 2015, Patricia sent her old friend Pigeon a copy of her resume. Pigeon was unable to help. She never received an appointment to any committee.
The charges also allege that between 2012 and 2015, Michalek asked Pigeon to recommend him to Pigeon’s friend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for an appointment to the Appellate Division, a higher judicial post.
On Dec. 10, 2012, Michalek emailed Pigeon, “think there is a seat open in App Div… I applied… Normally I wouldn’t mention it to you. . . wonder if you could help.”
Pigeon replied: “I will start talking u up.”
On Jan. 8, 2013, Michalek wrote to Pigeon: “Unc Steve…How’d you do with the Gov???”
Pigeon responded: “Bunch happening … in albany now… Gov went well … Talked u up … Let’s have coffee soon.”
Michalek was not appointed by the governor to the appellate court.
As far as two-way bribery goes, this one seemed to have gotten very little for either party.
Of the three requests Michalek made of Pigeon, he got none of them. Of the two cases, Pigeon clients had before Michalek, neither one went to trial; Michalek never got a chance to rule on the merits.
TICKETS ARE BRIBES?
As if Schneiderman realized the case was nonsense, he threw in the most serious aspects of the case he had- the only tangible proof that Michalek ever got anything. Schneirderman’s office alleged Pigeon “knowingly conferred, offered and agreed to confer on” Michalek’s wife a ticket to a fundraiser Pigeon co-hosted for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
The state says it was a $1,000 ticket, but a source who was there said it was a $250 ticket. Is it a crime? Gifts of tickets to political affairs are exempted as banned gifts in the New York State Public Officers Law (1-c [j]).
HOCKEY TICKETS IN BOX SEATS
The state also alleged that once in February and once in March, 2013, Pigeon “knowingly conferred, offered and agreed to confer on” Michalek Buffalo Sabres hockey tickets in payment “for (Michalek) having violated his duty as a public servant.”
Michalek accepted two tickets, two times for box seats at a Sabres game. He brought his wife to the games. Pigeon attended one game.
At the heart of the case then is that Michalek’s wife accepted a free ticket to attend a fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Michaleks got two free tickets to two Buffalo Sabres games.
A CAST ALIGNED AGAINST PIGEON
it is interesting to see who Schniederman chose to prosecute Pigeon.
Schneiderman’s lead prosecutor, Susan H. Sadinsky, was close to Michalek. She was his campaign treasurer for his previous judicial re-election. It was Sadinski who helped craft the Michalek plea deal which included the provision that Michalek be a witness against Pigeon.
Assistant Attorney General Diane LaVallee assists Sadinski. In 2008, when LaVallee ran [and lost] against Frank Sedita for Erie County DA, Pigeon was the architect of her opponent’s campaign. In 2013, Pigeon asked Gov. Cuomo to replace Republican Governor George Pataki appointments, including LaVallee [at the Department of Tax and Finance] with Democrats. LaVallee left the position and joined Schneiderman’s office.
The Attorney General [this is his last day] Schneiderman was a foe of Pigeon. He picked as his lead prosecutor, the former campaign treasurer for the chief witness against Pigeon. He picked as second lead prosecutor a woman Pigeon once effectively got fired from her job.
The judge who Schniederman judge-shopped to sign the search warrant was denied a state court judgeship by Pigeon.