Tuesday, June 15, 2010

U.S. Pigeon probe predates state action


G. Steven Pigeon calls allegations ridiculous.

U.S. Pigeon probe predates state action

N. Y. City feds sought election board data


NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER

The U. S. attorney’s office in Manhattan was investigating Democratic political operative G. Steven Pigeon’s Buffalo activities weeks before Gov. David A. Paterson’s office Friday provided evidence of his “pattern” of election-law violations, according to a knowledgeable source.

The source, who asked not to be identified, said federal investigators several weeks ago requested information on Pigeon in conjunction with their own tax and money-laundering probe of State Sen. Pedro Espada, D-Bronx, who employs Pigeon as his $150,000-a-year Senate counsel.

“The feds in Manhattan have requested materials from the information on complaints to the Board of Elections,” the source said, “all of which are public records.”

The ongoing probe is significant because Peter J. Kiernan, counsel to the governor, has forwarded the results of his own investigation of Pigeon’s alleged election-law violations to U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan. Kiernan cited the possibility of money-laundering violations, which are also the focus of the federal investigation in New York City that involves Pigeon and Espada, according to several reports.

Kiernan forwarded his investigation’s results on Friday after Paterson declined to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Pigeon’s alleged election-law violations following charges by former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha that two successive Erie County district attorneys looked the other way in the matter because of Pigeon’s powerful political connections.

Pigeon has labeled “ridiculous” any idea that he has violated election law. He said last week he does not believe he is the target of a federal probe. Nevertheless, he recently hired prominent Manhattan attorney Robert G. Morvillo to represent him.

While Sacha contends Paterson “passed the buck” by referring the results of his investigation of Pigeon’s alleged violation of state law to federal authorities, some experts say federal involvement could prove just as worrisome for Pigeon. Former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco, who once served as U. S. attorney for Western New York, said Monday the idea of a federal probe makes “perfect sense.”

“The governor had the power to just totally shut this down, so I don’t think he passed the buck,” Vacco said. “He took advantage of the fact there is an ongoing case and referred it to the U. S. attorney’s office.”

Vacco, who publicly called for appointment of a special prosecutor last October in an op-ed piece submitted to The Buffalo News, said that option would still work. But he cited the historical reluctance of New York prosecutors to concentrate on election-law violations and said federal authorities have a vast array of prosecutorial tools at their fingertips.

“This is the functional equivalent of appointing a special prosecutor,” Vacco said, noting that the U. S. attorney has the same ability to address the potential money-laundering and racketeering violations that Kiernan cited in his referral.

Erie County Democratic Elections Commissioner Dennis E. Ward, who with Republican counterpart Ralph M. Mohr filed official complaints about Pigeon’s methods and who were interviewed as part of Kiernan’s probe, said Monday that a special prosecutor could have addressed the situation effectively because of the “innumerable violations of state election laws.”

But he said the possibility of simultaneous violations of federal laws also opens other avenues for investigation.

“I’d rather have a prosecuting office that has resources than to leave it with a state office that has no resources,” Ward said. “It is possible that the stuff constituting violations of election law could be money-laundering or violations of tax statutes.”

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, whose 2008 campaign also alleged election-law violations by Pigeon, said he was pleased with the course the governor has taken. While he said he would have preferred the appointment of a special prosecutor, he said a federal investigation could also yield results.

“I assume the governor’s counsel knows exactly what he’s doing, and so I’m optimistic the federal government will take seriously these findings,” Hoyt said. “There must be a very clear message sent that those who violate election law will be punished. Otherwise, there will be a license for lawlessness in New York State.”

WCBS in New York reported in April that Bharara was conducting a tax and money-laundering probe of Espada and Pigeon. Federal prosecutors in New York City are looking at payments that GDP Consulting made to a Bronx company possibly connected to Espada.

New York Department of State records show that GDP is a limited liability company formed July 23. GDP’s address is listed as 7305 Porter Road, Niagara Falls. That address, actually located in the Town of Niagara, also is the home of the Parenti Accounting Group.

Jerry Parenti, chairman of the accounting business, is the father of Gary D. Parenti, a longtime political associate of Pigeon.

e-mail:rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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