Eric Schneiderman

Judge Rules Email Evidence In Pigeon Case Obtained Illegally

The State Attorney General’s Office appears to have been dealt a major blow in its case against Western New York political operative Steve Pigeon. State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio has ruled that email evidence in the case should be suppressed moving forward.

Pigeon is accused of nine felonies associated with allegedly bribing a state Supreme Court judge. The judge, John Michalek, has already pleaded guilty.

On May 27, 2015, federal and state investigators executed search warrants at Pigeon’s condo and the homes of two other men. As part of the raid, investigators asked Google to deliver Pigeon’s emails.

Judge Cerio agreed with the defense that although the search warrants were delivered to Google within the 10-day window allowed by the state, law enforcement was not able to examine the emails until at least 22 days after the warrants were executed.

“While the courts have found that undue delay in filing the return with the court is a ministerial act which will not effect the integrity of the warrant, the execution of the warrant within the prescribed time period is strictly construed,” Cerio wrote in his decision.

The judge said in order to avoid the situation, investigators could have gotten an extension. He said the court had no issue with the time prosecutors have taken in analyzing the records.

“It is the finding of this court that the People acted in good faith at all times with respect to the analysis of the defendant’s email records. However, the issue is not with respect to how long the process of analysis took place or whether the People acted in good faith but, rather, when the information was actually received from Google by state law enforcement with respect to the warrants at issue,” Cerio wrote.

The judge had previously ruled against Pigeon’s attorney, Paul Cambria, on this decision but changed his ruling only after deciding to allow the defendant to re-argue the decision. It is unclear what the impact on the case which is set to go to trial in September.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision regarding this technical issue and will soon determine how to best move this important prosecution forward. We appreciate the court stating that our office has proceeded in good faith at all times on this matter,” AG spokesperson Amy Spitalnick said.

Cambria would only say he believes the judge made the right decision and he is now waiting for Schneiderman’s office to decide how to move forward.

Pigeon Emails by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Indictments Against State Senator Ortt Dismissed

An Albany County Judge has dismissed all indictments against state Senator Rob Ortt due to lack of evidence. Ortt was facing three felony charges of filing a false instrument.

The state Attorney General’s office accused the Republican of obtaining a “no-show job” for his wife in order to make up for a pay reduction he took to become the mayor of the City of North Tonawanda.

The judge’s decision references evidence that Niagara County Republican Committee funneled money through two companies, Synor and Regency Communications, that were later paid to Ortt’s wife Meghan. One exhibit submitted to the court shows the companies paid $21,500 to Meghan Ortt over a number of years which were reported on the couple’s joint income tax returns.

According to the court documents though, there was no proof that the defendant knew the money source was the NCRC. As a result, the judge wrote the evidence did not show that Ortt had knowledge campaign finance reports were false, nor that he had any intent to defraud the state.

“Today’s decision by Judge Lynch to dismiss these ridiculous political charges was welcome news,” Ortt said in a statement. “This quick and forthright dismissal exposed Eric Schneiderman for the power hungry, political opportunist that he is. It is my hope that this ruling today will force Mr. Schneiderman to think twice before concocting baseless charges to serve his own radical progressive political agenda again. My wife and I look forward to receiving a personal apology from Mr. Schneiderman.”

The decision does not clear former state Senator George Maziarz who was also implicated in the alleged scheme.

“We’re pleased that a trial date has been set for the corruption charges against Sen. Maziarz,” said Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman.

“We disagree with the opinion regarding Sen. Ortt and are considering our options. Nothing in today’s opinion changes the fact that Meghan Ortt received money for a politically-connected no-show job. Only in Albany would a Senator argue that receiving money for a politically-connected no-show job isn’t a crime.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan celebrated the news in a statement as well.

“Rob Ortt is is a friend and colleague who has maintained his innocence from day one,” Flanagan said. “Now everyone will know what his Senate colleagues and I have known for a very long time — that he is a person of honor and integrity who did everything right.”

 

Judge Dismisses All Charges Against Senator Rob Ortt by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Schneiderman Signs On To Letter For Independent Counsel

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman signed on to a letter with fellow state AGs on Thursday calling for an independent special counsel to review and investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The letter was addressed to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose memo has been pointed to as a catalyst for the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. President Donald Trump now says the firing was his decision alone and the Rosensetein memo did not influence it.

The attorneys general called the firing of Comey “a violation of the public trust.”

“As prosecutors committed to the rule of law, we urge you to consider the damage to our democratic system of any attempts by the administration to derail and delegitimize the investigation,” the letter states.

All together, 20 state attorneys general signed on to the letter.

Ag Multistate Letter to Deputy Ag Rosenstein by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Pigeon To Face Felony Election Law Charges

Three prominent Western New York political operatives are scheduled to face felony election law charges Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the case. Among them is former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Pigeon, who is already in the midst of criminal proceedings for allegedly bribing a state Supreme Court justice.

In June, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the investigation that led to the bribery case started because of election complaints that were turned over to his office. Schneiderman insisted the investigation was ongoing.

Meanwhile, the original complainants – Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, former legislator Tim Hogues and attorney Mark Sacha – have been vocal about their displeasure with the unresolved election issues. They believe there was evidence the WNY Progessive Caucus, a political action committee tied to Pigeon, illegally coordinated with candidates to circumvent campaign finance donation limits.

The source said, two other Pigeon associates connected to the PAC, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff, are also scheduled to appear in court. Mazurek had a failed run for state Assembly this past fall and has been cooperating with the prosecution for at least a year and a half.

Neither Pigeon’s attorney nor the Attorney General’s office have commented on the charges at this point.

Schneiderman Hails Trump University Settlement

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Friday hailed the finalization of a $25 million settlement by a judge in the lawsuit his office brought against President Donald Trump’s defunct for-profit university.

“Today’s final approval by a judge of our Trump University settlement will provide relief – and hopefully much-needed closure – to the victims of Donald Trump’s fraudulent university,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Trump University’s victims waited years for compensation, while President Trump refused to settle and fought us every step of the way – until his stunning reversal last fall.”

He added: “In particular, I am pleased that we were able to ensure that members of the class action settlement will receive an even higher settlement than originally anticipated.”

The suit launched by Schneiderman alleged Trump University used deceptive practices when advertising to students the promises of its courses and who would be teaching them, namely that Trump himself was selecting the instructors.

The suit drew Trump’s ire, who launched a series of Twitter posts knocking the state attorney general. But ultimately, soon after Trump was elected president in November, he moved to settlement the claims against the university.

Schneiderman: Corruption Is A ‘Cancer In State Government’

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called public corruption a “cancer in state government” and defended on Friday at a press conference his prosecution of a state lawmaker and his predecessor.

Schneiderman’s office is prosecuting Sen. Robert Ortt, who is charged with three felony fraud counts stemming from his wife receiving a no-show job. The man who held his post before him, ex-Sen. George Maziarz, faces five counts of filing a false instrument as well.

Ortt angrily rebutted the charges on Thursday after his arraignment, calling the case a “political” witch hunt against him by Schneiderman.

Schneiderman, however, noted he has prosecuted Democrats in the past, including ex-Sen. Shirley Huntley and political operative Steve Pigeon.

“This is an investigation that has been ongoing that started with a referral from the Board of Elections,” he said. “The notion this is a political effort is completely at odds with the facts.”

Schneiderman also dismissed any questions over whether he would have to step up his office’s anti-corruption work with the departure of Preet Bharara as U.S. attorney. Schneiderman’s office worked with Bharara on several cases, including a sweeping bribery and bid-rigging cases that drew in charges for a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and upstate developers, as well as the ex-president of SUNY Nano.

“We’ve been proceeding with these cases all along. We’re going to do that and we will work with whoever is in place,” Schneiderman said. “Certainly, I had a good working relationship with Preet and wish him well, but the work of the office goes on. The work of investigating corruption goes on.”

Schneiderman Will Join Washington State’s Challenge To Travel Ban

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office on Thursday announced the state would join with a Washington state challenge to the federal government’s ban on immigration from a half-dozen Muslim countries and refugee travel.

The move will officially come Monday, when Schneiderman will sign onto the challenge being brought by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. Other attorneys general are expected to join the lawsuit as well.

“President Trump’s latest executive order is a Muslim Ban by another name, imposing policies and protocols that once again violate the Equal Protection Clause and Establishment Clause of the United State Constitution,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

“As the Trump White House has already said, the Administration’s latest Muslim Ban seeks to accomplish the same unlawful and unconstitutional outcomes as the original order. Smart, aggressive litigation by state attorneys general and civil rights advocates across the country successfully torpedoed President Trump’s first Muslim Ban, and I am pleased that as state AGs, we are now marshaling our resources to fight Trump’s latest, unconstitutional decree in the Ninth Circuit.”

Trump issued a revised travel ban on Monday as White House officials sought to tighten the legal issues facing the initial order, which had also been challenged in federal court after it chaotic roll out of the moratorium in the nation’s airports.

The ban was revised to not include green card holders or those with permanent residency status and excluded Iraq, a key U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.

Democratic attorneys general have found themselves in a similar situation their Republican counterparts did during President Barack Obama’s administration, when they filed suit to prevent aspects of his administration’s executive orders frmo being carried out.

Schneiderman In Albany To Talk Local ‘Resistance’ To Trump

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman this weekend will speak at a suburban Albany hotel to highlight how local governments can organize policies opposing President Donald Trump’s administration.

Schneiderman will be the keynote speaker on Saturday at the Local Progress New York Conference, being held at the Desmond Hotel, and will focus on how local municipalities declare themselves “sanctuary” communities that limit coordination on immigration enforcement actions by the federal government.

He’ll also discuss efforts to protect New Yorkers against hate crimes and discuss how the state can bolster the rights of workers and consumers as well as address the environment.

Also due to speak at the vent is Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, a former state Democratic committee co-chair, who has been critical of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Schneiderman has previously sought to get people engaged on the local level, penning an op/ed on the subject for CNN’s website in the aftermath of the election.

Schneiderman on the state level has been frequent adversary for Trump, suing him over the claims made by his for-profit college and joining with attorneys general from around the country to block an executive order placing a moratorium on immigration for seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees.

Most recently, Schneiderman signed onto an effort opposing the federal administration’s plans to rollback regulations for protecting smaller waterways around the country.

Updated: Schneiderman is under the weather and has cancelled his appearance at the event.

Schneiderman On Immigration Executive Order: ‘This Is Not A Close Call’

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.

Operative With Ties To Pigeon Pleads Guilty To Elections Violations

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.”