Western New York

DiPietro Cancels Fundraiser With Bannon, Blames ‘Radical Leftists’

Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, was planning to host former Trump advisor Steve Bannon as a featured guest at his fundraiser following Bannon’s Get Out The Vote rally in Elma next week.

But DiPietro canceled the reception on October 24 at the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora because he said the historic hotel and restaurant was receiving constant threats of violence and property destruction. He said, because of the threats, the property managers were requiring the DiPietro campaign to provide additional safety measures including 30 uniformed police officers and a $5 million insurance policy.

The assemblyman blamed radical violent leftist for forcing the decision and said threats came from as far away as Portland, Oregon and Oakland California.

“The good people at the Roycroft Inn are deeply concerned. This morning I realized nowhere is safe in today’s political climate – even my  historic hometown,” DiPietro said. “As a boy, my family celebrated many milestones at the Roycroft. As mayor of East Aurora, I helped the Roycroft with too many projects to recite. The vision of this beloved building in flames, swarmed by masked rioters, was too much”

For now, it appears the GOTV event on Wednesday at the Jamison Road Fire Hall in Elma is still on track. Organizer Michael Caputo, who works closely with Bannon, has said this kind of reaction to his visits is relatively common.

DiPietro said he will still hold a long-planned fundraiser at the Roycroft on Thursday with no guest of honor.

Pigeon Pleads Guilty In Federal Court

Steve Pigeon, a well-known and well-connected political operative in Western New York, pleaded guilty Tuesday to his second felony charge in less than two weeks.

The litigation has been ongoing for several years but with the plea, there are no more outstanding charges against former Erie County Democratic Committee chairman.

“It’s over,” defense attorney Paul Cambria said. “We’ve wrapped everything up. Three indictments are gone.”

Pigeon admitted to soliciting and coordinating an illegal $25,000 campaign donation from a foreign national through a straw donor.

“When it comes to the election process generally and to campaign contributions in particular, transparency is really the primary tool that we use to eliminate graft and dishonesty,” U.S. Attorney, Western District of New York, J.P. Kennedy said.
Federal prosecutors originally brought these charges against Pigeon in May 2017, but subsequently dropped them, instead moving forward with charges in which he was accused of bribing a judge. Late last month, he pleaded guilty to bribery in a parallel state Supreme Court case. The state Attorney General agreed to drop separate election law charges as party of the deal and the U.S. Attorney turned back to its original case.

“We felt that it would be appropriate to include this additional criminal conduct and to hold him responsible for that and that’s what happened today,” Kennedy said.

Cambria believed it was a good disposition for his client.

“There are few people in the world who can withstand three separate indictments and three separate trials and so that had a lot to do with resolving the case the way we did,” he said.

Although not named in the indictment, the contribution in question went to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2014 reelection campaign. The campaign has maintained the public records make it clear it did nothing wrong.

The U.S. Attorney would not comment about the possibility of further action related to the matter but Pigeon’s attorney Paul Cambria says cooperation with any ongoing investigation is not a stipulation of his deal.

“If there were, we  wouldn’t discuss that anyway. I mean that  isn’t the kind of thing that you talk about in news conferences but no, we don’t have any obligations at this point as we sit here so we’ll go forward,” Cambria said.

Pigeon faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine although federal sentencing guidelines suggest ten to 16 months. Cambria, while not conceding his client will serve any time, said he believes there’s a good chance the state and federal sentences could be served simultaneously.

WFP Member Would Have Supported Collins Removal From NY-27 Ballot

From the Morning Memo:

For six weeks, Republican leaders in NY-27 examined a multitude of ways to remove indicted Rep. Chris Collins from the November ballot.

All the while, local Democrats argued that any effort to replace the embattled incumbent congressman with a less problematic candidate would be a fraudulent undertaking, and promised to challenge the substitution in court.

Erie County GOP Chair Nick Langworthy said he believed the party had legal and viable options.

He accused his opposition of being hypocritical, and said they would not be raising the same red flags if and when, for example, the Working Families Party looked to remove failed Democratic primary gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon from its ballot line.

This became something of a moot point after Collins surprised Langworthy and other local Republican leaders by deciding to remain on the ballot on the advice of his legal team. However Langworthy’s hypothetical is happening now.

The Working Families Party is waiting on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision about whether to accept what was originally Nixon’s designation, and, in a complicated bit of Election Law maneuvering, has bumped the actress-turned-activist down to run in the Assembly district currently occupied by Manhattan Democrat Deborah Glick.

Langworthy on Twitter Wednesday, perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek, suggested “fraud” a half a dozen times.

WFP Executive Committee member Phil Rumore, however, rejected the comparison between the Nixon and Collins situations. Most notably, the Buffalo Teachers union president pointed out, the erstwhile gubernatorial candidate isn’t facing any federal charges.

However, Rumore says he actually agreed with the idea of Collins being removed from the ballot.

“You don’t want to disenfranchise the voters in that are by having somebody that’s been indicted for a serious crime,” he explained.

Rumore admitted he thinks an alternative Republican would have made the race even more complicated for Democrat Nate McMurray, whom the Buffalo Teachers Federation has endorsed.

Pigeon ‘Exploring Resolution’ In Federal Case

From the Morning Memo:

Former Erie County Democratic Committee Chair Steve Pigeon appears to be working out a plea deal with federal prosecutors.

According to court records, Pigeon is scheduled for a change of plea hearing Tuesday of next week. Roughly a year ago, the political operative pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts, including bribery and wire fraud.

Pigeon faced parallel charges in state Supreme Court until last week, when he admitted to one felony bribery count. The judge agreed to cap his sentence at the misdemeanor level of one year.

Both cases are connected to a scheme in which Pigeon exchanged a series of favors with a state Supreme Court justice, including trying to help his family members get a job and a political appointment. In return, he would receive influence over some case in front of the judge.

The state AG’s office said Pigeon would lose his law license as part of the deal. His sentencing in state Supreme Court is scheduled for Dec. 21.

As for the federal case, there’s no word yet on how much leniency Pigeon may receive. “We are exploring resolution,” was all his attorney Paul Cambria would say.

The U.S. attorney’s office had originally charged Pigeon with coordinating and soliciting a back-door donation from a foreign national to the governor’s 2014 reelection campaign. Those charges were dropped after the bribery indictment was unsealed.

The state plea also satisfied charges Pigeon’s faced in a separate election law case so his days in court may soon be over.

Pigeon Pleads Guilty To Bribery Charge

Former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Pigeon pleaded guilty to a felony count of 3rd degree bribery Friday morning in state Supreme Court.

The political operative admitted to bribing former state Supreme Court Justice John Michalek, who pleaded guilty himself more than two years ago. According to the Attorney General’s office, Pigeon offered Michalek assistance in obtaining employment and a political appointment for two of the judge’s family members, as well as providing free tickets to a political fundraiser and a professional hockey game.

In exchange, there was an understanding Pigeon would have influence over Michalek’s official actions on the bench. The exchanges are detailed through emails and text messages from February 2012 to April 2018.

“As we detailed, Steve Pigeon orchestrated a brazen, multiyear scheme to bribe a sitting judge – demonstrating flagrant contempt for the rule of law and the interests of New Yorkers. Now, he’s being brought to justice,” Attorney General Barbara Underwood said. “We have zero tolerance for public corruption. New Yorkers deserve to be able to trust the integrity of their officials – and my office will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable those who violate that trust.”

The charges originally stemmed from a 2013 election law complaint against Pigeon which led to federal investigators executing a search warrant in May 2015. Pigeon not only faced nine charges connected to the bribery scheme but was eventually charged in state Supreme Court for the election law complaint connected to his independent expenditure committee the WNY Progressive Caucus.

The AG’s Office said Friday’s plea satisfied the charges against him in that case, as well. Pigeon faces up to one year in prison and will lose his law license.

His sentencing is scheduled for December 21. Michalek, who was charged at the same time, has not been sentenced yet either, but did resign his judgeship and was disbarred.

The legal process took several years, in part because of several rulings and challenges between the prosecution and defense over whether seized emails were admissable in court. Ultimately, the judge ruled with the attorney general.

Pigeon also faces parallel charges in federal court and his attorney Paul Cambria suggested that was a factor in them accepting the deal.

“Just defending so many indictments on so many fronts is a daunting task for anyone. Resolving all of this and the state indictments at this level was a satisfactory alternative, particularly with the condition that sentencing would be at misdemeanor level,” Cambria said.

The state trial was scheduled to begin next month.

Niagara Falls Mayor Welcomes $12.3 M Advance

From the Morning Memo:

Help came just in time for the city of Niagara Falls and its mayor, Paul Dyster.

The city council and Dyster had been struggling with a shortfall in the early stages of this year’s budgeting process. Last March, the Seneca Nation of Indians made its last payment to the state, claiming it had fulfilled its obligation as part of a gaming revenue sharing agreement. A large portion of that money would have gone to Niagara Falls, where the Senecas operate their largest casino.

“There was just a report from the state Comptroller’s office that had us as the third most stressed of six cities that were identified as being under conditions of financial stress,” Dyster said. “If you look at the way the score was derived, it’s almost entirely the result of the casino situation.”

Then the state stepped in, advancing the city $12.3 million. The state and the Senecas are in the middle of an arbitration process that could be complete by as soon as mid-December, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

However, Dyster said Niagara Falls still needs to complete its final budget by the first week of December, and isn’t completely out of the woods – fiscally speaking.

“The arbitration timeline doesn’t line up with our budget timeline,” the mayor said. “We saw that situation evolving over a period of months, and we’ve been in negotiations with the governor’s office for quite some time, resulting in the announcement that you heard today.”

The money means Dyster and the Council can avoid unwanted cuts to things like fire and public safety. But the mayor said the city still needs to figure out how to become less reliant on the casino money.

The revenues have been gradually reducing over the last few years due to more competition in the gaming market.

Also, Dyster pointed out, even in the best case arbitration scenario for the state, the current compact would still run out in 2023. The mayor said the city will still consider a new garbage collection fee of up to $200, but now it may be able to offset those costs by keeping property taxes consistent or even perhaps a cut.

State Fronting Niagara Falls $12.3 Million

New York State is advancing the city of Niagara Falls $12.3 million dollars to help cover budget shortfall created in part by the loss of revenue from the Seneca Niagara Casino.

The Seneca Nation of Indians claimed it had fulfilled its obligation to pay a portion of its slot machine revenues to the state in March of last year, under the terms of a 2002 Compact. The state disagrees and the two parties are currently in an arbitration process.

However, the three cities where the Seneca Casinos operate, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Salamanca, have received no money in the interim. Niagara Falls gets the largest share of that funding and has been struggling to figure out how to make up the lost funding.

The mayor recently criticized the Nation during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony for potentially putting police and firefighters at risk. The city is also considering an unpopular proposal to add a $200 garbage fee.

“As you know, there’s a dispute and the Senecas have refused  to pay. That’s created a hardship for Niagara Falls. The state is going to advance $12.3 million to the city of Niagara Falls to help with that shortfall. We believe the arbitration will be concluded towards the end of this year,” Cuomo said. “We’re now in that process but in the meantime Niagara Falls is suffering and the state wants to do what it can do to be helpful so we’ll be advancing $12.3 million, advanced against the revenues that will be collected once the matter is resolved.”

The governor’s office said if the state does not win in arbitration, Niagara Falls will be able to keep the money. However, if the state wins and the funding is restored, the city will pay back the $12.3 million.

We’ve reached out to the Seneca Nation for a response. In the past, Seneca leaders have pointed out they have been willing to negotiate individually with the affected cities and that the funds from the casino were never intended to balance municipal budgets.

3407 Families Hopeful For FAA Reauthorization

From the Morning Memo:

A congressional vote to reauthorize FAA programs for five years could come as soon as tomorrow, according to Western New York Rep. Brian Higgin’s office.

The move comes as welcome progress to families of the victims of Flight 3407, who have, for the better part of a decade, been back and forth to Washington, D.C. fighting for new safety standards and then, once that was achieved, making sure those standards remained in place.

Prior to the Flight 3407 crash in 2009, pilots with as few as 250 hours of flight time were qualified to fly commercial airliners. Thanks to the lobbying efforts of the victims’ families, the training requirement was increased to 1,500 hours.

“It’ll be nice to relax a bit. We’re always vigilant. We will never stop watching. We hold people accountable. It will be nice though to know we don’t have to go every week,” said Susan Bourque, whose sister Beverly Eckert died in the crash.

Higgins said he’s confident, but cautiously so, about the vote. He pointed out the victims have had to work tirelessly just to get temporary reauthorizations in the past, and it usually comes down to the 11th hour.

“Without continued vigilance, we risk an unraveling of the great progress made in flight safety for all passengers thanks to the tireless advocacy by the families of Flight 3407,” Higgins said. “We are pushing for the final bill approved this week to maintain the flight safety standards these families fought for and protect the flying public for years to come.”

The bill has bipartisan support in Western New York, at least. Republican Rep. Tom Reed has supported the effort along with Higgins, a Democrat.

“We will always remember the tragedy which took the lives of so many in the crash of Flight 3407 and will continue to honor their memory and stand with their family and friends to fight to ensure these enhanced flight safety regulations are reauthorized,” Reed said. “We must not back down and lessen these important reforms.”

The deadline for reauthorization is Sept. 30th, and the measure must pass through the U.S. Senate too.

Struggling Niagara Falls Considers Hefty Garbage Fee

From the Morning Memo:

Niagara Falls continues to struggle with the loss of roughly $20 million annually from the Seneca Nation in casino revenue.

The city has already scaled back its budget, but now it’s proposing to make up some of the shortfall from its citizens pockets, charging as much as $200 per household in garbage fees.

The plan under consideration by the City Council would be included in the mayor’s Oct. 1 budget proposal. City leaders said it’s not something they want to do, necessarily, but is an alternative to cutting back on public safety.

“We understand the plight; we have to make some tough decision,” Council Chair Andrew Touma said. “I’m gonna do what’s best for my city.”

A group of protesters gathered last night outside City Hall to express their displeasure with the proposal.

“I’m asking them to cut the fat of City Hall before you come to our door asking for money,” protester Terri Kline said.

The Senecas have not made payments as part of revenue sharing agreement with the state since last spring. They say they have fulfilled their obligation under a 2002 compact.

The state disagrees, and the dispute is currently in an arbitration process, which is moving very slowly. The Senecas have offered to negotiate separately with Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Salamanca where their casinos operate, but so far the cities have declined to engage, deferring to the state.

Last week, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster suggested during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony that the nation’s refusal to make payments is putting firefighters and police officers at risk.

Niagara Falls Mayor Criticizes Senecas During 9/11 Ceremony

From the Morning Memo:

An ongoing dispute between the state and the Seneca Nation of Indians surfaced during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony in Niagara Falls.

As Falls Mayor Paul Dyster honored first responders, he accused the Senecas of putting those same individuals at risk by ceasing payments to the municipality of slot machine revenues.

The Nation argued its obligation to the state ended in March of last year, and the two sides are currently in the process of arbitration. Niagara Falls, which is losing out on about roughly $20 million a year as a result of that ongoing battle, has felt the loss of funding the hardest.

Dyster said he felt the point – while political in nature – was nevertheless an important one to make during ceremony.

“The issue of the Seneca Casino revenues imperils our funding for public safety,” he said. “It’s easy to be in favor of funding public safety when you’ve got a lot of money.”

“When the dollars are scarce, that’s when you find out who among your elected officials has the political courage to stand up and make sure that public safety is fully funded and I promise you that I will have that courage and call on other elected officials to do the same.”

Dyster did not go quite so far as he did during the same ceremony six years ago, when he threatened to pull fire protection from the Seneca Niagara Casino. At the time, the Senecas were withholding payments because they believed the state had violated its exclusivity agreement.

The sentiment was off-putting to some, but Dyster continues to stand by the point he was trying to make – both then and now.

“Probably the most challenging scenario our fire department would face would be a fire on the upper floors of the Seneca casino,” he said. “If that were to happen today, tomorrow, I know that you would be there to try to save lives under those circumstances.”

“But again, I cannot escape the irony that you would be doing so with one hand tied behind your back because of the failure of the Seneca Nation to deliver those revenues. The very first dollars that we get from the casino on any given year, the first thing that we devote funding to is public safety because that’s our priority.”

Nation President Todd Gates called Dyster’s comments on 9/11 a disgrace, and said the mayor was “clearly the governor’s puppet.” He pointed out the Senecas have repeatedly offered to negotiate individually with the cities where their casinos operate.

Dyster has deferred to the state and the arbitration, in which, Gates said, the state recently missed a deadline, potentially prolonging the process still further.

“The Mayor doesn’t like to address the fact that his administration has wastefully spent millions of dollars that poured into the City during the Nation’s 14-year payment period to the State,” Gates said.

“He doesn’t address or take responsibility for that gross fiscal mismanagement. It’s easier for him to simply repeat the State’s false narrative. Mayor Dyster spoke today about ‘political courage’ but what he really believes in is political expediency. The first responder community and the people of Niagara Falls deserve better.”

Meanwhile, the president alleged that the Dyster administration has sat for months on an agreement that would guarantee enhanced public safety at the casino and provide more assurance to the city’s police department.