Feb 2nd - 4:47 pm
During a press conference in Buffalo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman discussed his office’s decision to join the America Civil Liberties Union in suing the Trump administration. The lawsuit seeks to overturn the president’s executive order suspending the U.S. refugee program and temporarily banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim states.
Schneiderman said it was pretty clear to him the intent of the order was to discriminate against immigrants based on religion which is unconstitutional. The administration says the order was not specifically aimed at Muslims.
“Five courts have looked at this,” Schneiderman said. “All five very quickly said this order contains constitutional violations. This is not a close call.”
The attorney general said the executive order has caused a chaos at New York airports and his staff has been working with the U.S. Attorney’s office to make sure nobody is being improperly detained. He said the order affects millions of New Yorkers who aren’t detainees too.
“All of the business that are affected suffer and we’ve had huge support for our efforts from people in the finance committee, in the tech committee, in the healthcare community where we’re very dependent on immigrants for a variety of different services,” he said.
Schneiderman said he’s confident the order will eventually be struck down but in the meantime he’s trying to mitigate the harm it causes.
Jan 26th - 6:15 am
From the Morning Memo:
Western New York Democratic political operative Frank Max pleaded guilty yesterday to two misdemeanor election law violations.
According to the state attorney general’s office, the charges were connected to false campaign finance disclosure reports for the Progressive Democrats of Western New York – a political action committee of which Max was both founder and treasurer.
Specifically, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said Max falsely reported donations of more than $99 as less than $99. In doing so, the committee was able to circumvent rules requiring that the donations be itemized.
Prosecutors said the PAC also reported a $900 contribution as $400, and did not properly note corporate donations, which are strictly limited under the state’s campaign finance system.
“Campaign finance laws exist for a reason – to protect voters and keep our democratic process honest and transparent,” Schneiderman said.
“When well-connected political operatives fail to make proper disclosures, it creates widespread distrust in the system as a whole. Today’s plea sends the message that political committees, treasurers and candidates will be held accountable if they fail to obey the law.”
Max’s attorney, Nicholas Romano of Connors LLP, said throughout the years his client had solicited help to balance his books and file financial disclosures. Romano said Max never filed reports with the state Board of Elections personally, but accepted blame as the committee’s treasurer.
A source close to the operative said Max has had some serious health issues recently, which has kept him from being as involved in politics as he had been in the past and may have contributed to his willingness to cooperate with prosecutors.
“He stepped up; he took responsibility,” Romano said. “He wants to put this issue behind him, and he’s excited to focus on spending more time with his family and his future.”
Romano noted that although the statute has been on the books for decades, prosecuting violations because of incorrect Board of Elections filings is a relatively new practice in New York. He said under Schneiderman, there have been two similar cases.
The AG charged Niagara Falls City Councilman Charles Walker in November 2016, and an Assembly candidate from Brooklyn a year prior.
“The most important thing to remember with respect to this case is that all committee funds were accounted for and all committee funds were used properly under the New York state election law,” Romano said. “These charges today simply go to the paperwork that is filed with the New York State Board of Elections.”
The misdemeanors each carry up to one year in jail. Romano said he expects his client to receive a conditional discharge as long as he continues to cooperate.
That’s where things could get interesting, as Max runs in the same political circles as another veteran WNY Democratic operative, Steve Pigeon. In 2013, disclosure reports show Max’s PAC made contributions of $4,000 and $1,500 to the WNY Progressive Caucus, a separate committee tied to Pigeon.
Schneiderman opened an investigation into Pigeon as a result of elections complaints tied to the PAC, and ultimately charged him with bribing a state Supreme Court judge. That case is heading toward trial.
Romano insisted Max’s case is not connected to any other case – including Pigeon’s – but did say as part of his client’s plea, he needs to be an “open book with law enforcement.”
Nov 11th - 6:45 am
From the Morning Memo:
A Niagara Falls city councilman is facing charges for failing to file financial disclosure reports with the state. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Charles Walker, a Democrat, didn’t disclose his campaign’s financial activity in 2014 and 2015.
Walker was charged with four misdemeanor counts of knowingly failing to file statements. He appeared in Albany City Court yesterday.
“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence that their elected officials are serving them honestly and with transparency,” said Risa Sugarman, chief enforcement counsel for the state Board of Elections. “The public has the right to know who contributes to campaigns and how candidates spend those contributions.”
Walker faces up to a year in jail on each count if convicted.
Elections complaints are relatively common, so targeting the councilman is an interesting choice. It’s not unprecedented for the AG though. Last year he brought similar charges against former Assembly candidate Michele Adolphe.
“Campaign finance laws exist for a reason – to protect voters and keep our democratic process honest and transparent,” Schneiderman said. “Today’s charges send the message that elected officials will be held accountable if they fail to obey the very laws they are sworn to uphold.”
Political observers have been waiting to see if Schneiderman planned to prosecute any election law violations. This is not the case they’ve had their eye on.
This summer, a special grand jury indicted Western New York operative Steve Pigeon for allegedly bribing a federal judge. Prosecutors built the case based on evidence collected during an investigation into a 2013 elections complaint.
At the time, Schneiderman said that case remained open but has yet to bring any charges related to it.
Nov 10th - 1:10 pm
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s re-election campaign on Thursday released a fundraising appeal for North Carolina Democrat Roy Cooper, who is locked in a close race against incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Cooper has a narrow 4,772-vote lead over McCrory, who has drawn the ire of liberals nationally over the state’s law that is seen as restrictive of transgender rights.
The close results are expected to trigger a recount, and Schneiderman writes Cooper needs $1 million “to ensure every vote is counted.”
“I know a lot of you are still reeling over Tuesday’s results, but I encourage you to let the dust settle as the path forward becomes clearer,” Schneiderman wrote in the fundraising email. “And have no doubt–there will be a path.
In the meantime, there is still work to be done. My friend, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a pragmatic progressive in an important swing state, needs your help.”
The North Carolina law led to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a ban on state-related travel to North Carolina, a move that was realized by the UAlbany men’s basketball team canceling a game in the state.
“As you may remember, Roy’s opponent, the incumbent Governor of North Carolina, signed one of the most homophobic pieces of legislation in modern history, and presided over poll closings and other tactics clearly designed to suppress the vote on November 8th,” the Schneiderman email states. “Please let your friends know that Roy needs your help. Contributions of even $100 will help ensure that North Carolina will get the pro-choice, environmentally conscious governor its voters chose on Tuesday.”
Sep 22nd - 3:33 pm
Less than two hours after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrapped up his press conference detailing a complex public corruption case against nine individuals, including now-former SUNY Poly President Alain Kaloyeros, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman followed suit, revealing the outcome of his own – related, but independent – investigation.
The result of that probe, which, like Bharara’s, is still ongoing, was more charges for Kaloyeros, who, according to the AG, engaged in bid rigging to benefit Albany developer Joseph Nicolla, president of Columbia Development.
Schneiderman said Kaloyeros, who was once the state’s highest compensated public employee but has been suspended without pay by SUNY, and Nicolla colluded to benefit each other, the former even going so far as to provide details of a competitor’s solicitation for a lucrative state contract to the later to give him a leg up on the process six months before an RFP was officially issued.
Kaloyeros also allegedly awarded another lucrative contract to a firm that agreed to provide a nonprofit he controlled with a $50 million loan along with a $3 million research grant to SUNY Poly, the AG said, and engaged in a “collusive” agreement with an architectural firm that served to increase his own annual compensation.
Schneiderman called the actions by Kaloyeros “stupid” and “brazen” accusing them of “acting in an unrestrained way to enrich themselves.”
Kaloeryos is facing three felony counts of restraint of trade and competition and is scheduled to arraigned in Albany City Court tomorrow. Nicolla faces one count, and is scheduled to be arraigned in the same court on Monday.
If convicted on all charges, Kaloyeros faces a maximum sentence of 4 to 12 years in prison, while Nicolla faces 1.3 to 4 years in prison.
Schneiderman said he exercised the anti-trust powers afforded to him under the Donnelly Act. He said more individuals could be charged in the future, but stressed – when asked – that “there are no charges today that related in any way to” Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Note the careful placement of “today” in that sentence by Schneiderman, who succeeded Cuomo in the AG’s office, and hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with the governor, who even tried on his way out the door to take Martin Act power and give it to the newly created Department of Financial Services superintendent – a job created for his onetime top aide, Ben Lawsky.
You can read the AG’s complaint against Kaloyeros and Nicolla below.
Sep 14th - 1:54 pm
The Democratic members of New York’s congressional delegation this week urged Republicans on a House committee to drop subpoenas issued to state attorneys general, arguing such a move is a waste of time and violates the separation of powers.
The subpoenas issued by the House Science, Space and Technology Committee are seeking documentation related to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation of ExxonMobil and whether the energy giant underplayed the causes of climate change.
Republicans have alleged the investigation is being conducted in part to curry favor with deep-pocketed environmental groups and donors.
But Schneiderman, as well as House Democrats, argue the subpoenas violate the principle of federalism and are, in essence, a sign of congressional overreach.
In addition to issuing subpoenas to Schneiderman, the House panel has also sought records from the Massachusetts AG.
“We are deeply concerned that these subpoenas will interfere with the legitimate fraud investigations of ExxonMobil undertaken by these independently elected law enforcement officials,” the lawmakers wrote.
Schneiderman’s office on Tuesday in a letter to Chairman Lamar Smith wrote it would not comply with the subpoenas, citing the federalism argument.
The AG was back in the news on Tuesday again when he launched an investigation of the Trump Foundation, the charity founded by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, which has com under scrutiny for its record of donations.
Jul 8th - 8:16 pm
Assistant Attorney General Susan Sadinsky will continue to work on the criminal case involving state Supreme Court Judge John Michalek and political operative Steve Pigeon, for now.
“Things could always change,” was the addendum from AG spokesperson Matt Mittenthal a day after we first reported Sadinsky served as Michalek’s campaign treasurer in 2008.
The attorney general’s office also noted Friday, the prosecutor’s supervisor knew about her history with the judge, as did the division responsible for reviewing conflicts of interest. Sadinsky helped prepare and present the felony complaint against Michalek.
The judge accepted a plea deal last week and admitted to accepting bribes from Pigeon. He’s agreed to cooperate with the investigation moving forward.
The Buffalo News reported Friday, the other prosecutor assigned to the cases, Diane LaVallee, received court fees over the years for services rendered in cases assigned by Michalek. One of the people who submitted the initial election law complaint that led to the indictments, believes its a clear conflict in both cases.
“My entire complaint from the start of the Pigeon matter, related to conflicts of interest which prevented prosecution of election law crimes,” said attorney Mark Sacha. “I am very disturbed to learn that out of all the prosecutors in the attorney general’s office, the two prosecutors on Pigeon and Michalek’s case are the ones that have both professional and political conflicts. The citizens of Erie County deserve better.”
Jul 7th - 5:44 pm
One of the prosecutors who helped prepare and present the complaint against state Supreme Court Judge John Michalek used to work on the judge’s campaign. The state attorney general’s office confirms Assistant Attorney General Susan Sadinsky of the office’s Public Integrity Bureau served as Michalek’s campaign treasurer in 2008.
Last Wednesday, Michalek pleaded guilty to two felony charges: receiving a bribe and false filing. The judge admitted to trading favors with Western New York political operative Steve Pigeon.
“As indicated by Justice Michalek’s guilty plea and the very serious criminal charges against Mr. Pigeon, the prosecutors in this case proceeded aggressively and impartially in their pursuit of a brazen bribery and extortion scheme that should offend anyone who believes in the rule of law. No one – regardless of years-old affiliations or connections – is above the law,” AG spokesperson Matt Mittenthal said.
Pigeon pleaded not guilty to nine charges last Thursday, including bribing the judge. As part of Michalek’s plea agreement he resigned from his seat and promised to cooperate with the investigation moving forward.
Jun 30th - 3:41 pm
You couldn’t help walking away from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s press conference in Buffalo Thursday thinking this is just the beginning. That’s not to take away from the magnitude of the events of the last two days.
Getting a sitting state Supreme Court judge to plead guilty to two felony charges including accepting a bribe is a huge story. That plea deal is expected to be instrumental as the AG’s office attempts to prosecute notoriously bullet-proof Western New York political operative Steve Pigeon, for among other things allegedly giving those bribes.
The two are accused by Schneiderman of essentially gaming the political and judicial system for their own benefits.
“For a judge to sell their office for favors, for benefits, for money is something that I think should offend all Americans, but certainly should offend all American lawyers,” Schneiderman said.
According to the Michalek complaint, much of the evidence for this case came from emails, seized when authorities raided Pigeon’s home last year. Those raids were the result of an investigation into election law complaints.
The attorney general said there could still be charges involving those initial accusations.
“Yes. I don’t want to comment on any other ongoing aspects of the investigation but it is an ongoing investigation,” Schneiderman said.
Then there’s the ripple effect this could have on the court system in Erie County. Schneiderman said the state Office of Court Administration has started a broad investigation of cases Michalek presided over, including specific cases connected to this complaint.
Sources have told us investigators we’re speaking to at least one other judge. Schneiderman had a chance to make a definitive statement when asked if he had questions about the impartiality of anybody else on the bench.
“As I said, I’m not going to comment on any other aspects of the ongoing investigations,” he said.
The attorney general would not even comment on whether the special grand jury was still empaneled. Meanwhile, a representative for the FBI said there could be federal charges associated with the investigation down the line.
So how far does this reach? It’s hard to even guess.
Pigeon has connections to attorneys and politicians, not just across Western New York, but all over the state.
According to one of the communications in the Michalek complaint, Pigeon even talked up the judge to the governor. Nobody asked specifically if Governor Cuomo had any further connection to the investigation, but based on the rest of the press conference we probably could’ve expected a “no comment.”
Jun 30th - 1:12 pm
Ryan Whalen reports:
A well-known Western New York political operative with ties to high-profile Democrats, including former President Clinton and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, faces nine separate charges in connection with a bibery case involving a now-former state Supreme Court judge. G. Steven Pigeon pleaded not guilty to all counts in state Supreme Court this morning. This is the culmination of a long and well-documented public corruption investigation by the state attorney general’s office.
Pigeon faces two counts of bribery, six counts awarding misconduct and one count of grand larceny. The indictment handed up by a special grand jury two days ago was unsealed in court earlier today. Pigeon’s attorney Paul Cambria waived a reading of the indictment. If convicted on all counts Pigeon could face up to 15 years in Prison. Cambria said he doesn’t expect this case to get to sentencing.
“The prosecution says it has a strong case, made stronger yesterday when state Supreme Court Judge John Michalek took a plea deal and admitted to taking bribes from Pigeon,” said Paul Cambria, defense attorney.
The prosecution said its case is stronger because of the cooperation agreement it reached with state Supreme Court John Michalek, who pleaded guilty to two felonies Wednesday and agreed to resign his seat on the bench. He is continuing to cooperate with investigators in hopes of avoiding time behind bars.
“I will not stand for this kind of brazen contempt for the rule of law and the interests of everyday New Yorkers. Anyone who breaches the public trust will be held accountable by my office. Our investigation is ongoing,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
Most of the charges in the Pigeon indictment involve the series of favors exchanged between him and the judge, including an attempt on at least one occasion by Pigeon to get Cuomo to appoint Michalek to an associate judgeship in the Appellate Division.
The charge of grand larceny involve an unnamed attorney whom Pigeon allegedly extorted for about $5,000. That same attorney was appointed by Michalek as a receiver at Pigeon’s request, even though Schneiderman said he only had about two years of experience.
The prosecution asked the judge set bail at $25,000. Despite the defense arguing Pigeon has known about this investigation for a year and a half and was no threat to flee, the judge set bail at $10,000 cash. The defense had a bondsmen at court and was processing the bond immediately after the hearing.
Pre-trial motions need to be in by Aug. 16.