“Bribery of a judge strikes at the very core of our democracy.”
A federal grand jury returned an eight-count indictment Friday against the Democratic political operative whom a state judge claims to have taken bribes from.
The 29-page indictment, which is dated Oct. 5 but unsealed this morning, takes aim at G. Steven Pigeon, who chaired the Erie County Democratic Committee from 1996 to 2002.
When state and federal law enforcement raided his Buffalo penthouse in 2015, Pigeon was working as an attorney with the Rochester law firm Underberg & Kessler.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman indicted Pigeon on June 28, 2016 — just a day before John Michalek pleaded guilty to taking bribes from Pigeon and resigned his 22-year judgeship with the state court system.
The new federal charging papers accuse 56-year-old Pigeon of bribing Michalek to obtain favorable court decisions and to control who Michalek would appoint to a paid court receivership.
When President Barack Obama was running for re-election in 2012, according to the complaint, Michalek allegedly promised to get a job on the campaign for a member of Michalek’s immediate family.
Prosecutors say Michalek also offered to secure a U.S. State Department job for the same Michalek relative, and he agreed to support Michalek’s application for appointment to the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court.
“Bribery of a judge strikes at the very core of our democracy,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement. “The independence of the judiciary is paramount to civilized society. Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners will pursue any and all attempts to corrupt our fundamental institutions, including the judiciary.”
Pigeon faces one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services wire fraud, three counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of federal programs bribery and three counts of violation of the Travel Act.
He was arraigned in Buffalo this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Roemer and released on conditions pending his trial before the U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara.
Paul Cambria is leading Pigeon’s defense, according to a report by the Buffalo News.
Maintaining his client’s innocence, the attorney suggested in an interview with the paper that prosecutors brought the federal charges because of weaknesses in the state case.
The article also notes that federal prosecutors used this morning’s hearing to withdraw “a charge they filed against Pigeon in late April, accusing him of orchestrating an illegal $25,000 donation from a Canadian gaming company executive to the campaign of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.”
“Prosecutors declined to say why they asked for the dismissal, but noted they can re-file the case at a later date,” the Buffalo News reported.
Top photo | Karen Neoh