Apr 18th - 12:59 pm
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.
Mar 31st - 2:13 pm
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.
Mar 24th - 3:44 pm
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.”
Mar 9th - 2:32 pm
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.
Mar 3rd - 12:08 pm
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.
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.