The New York State Attorney General announced Friday that G. Steven Pigeon, a longtime political operative and former chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has pleaded guilty to one count of bribery in his state case.
The guilty plea entered Friday before State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio was to one count of third-degree bribery. He faces up to one year in prison when sentenced December 21. He will also lose his law license.
By entering the plea, Pigeon admits to bribing former State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek.
State prosecutors say that from 2012 to 2015, Pigeon and Michalek exchanged text and email messages. According to the criminal complaint, Pigeon would assist Michaelek with securing a job for two of the latter's relatives and a judicial appointment for Michaelek himself, in exchange for influence in Michalek's judicial decisions. Michalek pleaded guilty in 2016 to receiving a bribe and filing a false document and awaits sentencing. He also resigned from the judiciary and was disbarred.
"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," said Attorney General Underwood in a prepared written statement. "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."
Pigeon was originally scheduled to go on trial beginning October 15 on nine counts, including bribery, rewarding official misconduct and extortion. Pigeon could have faced up to 15 years in prison for convictions on all of those counts.
Pigeon was also indicted in December 2017 for violations of the New York State Election Law. He and two associates, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff, were accused of illegal campaign coordination during the 2013 Democratic primary races for two Erie County Legislature candidates. The cases against Mazurek and Pfaff are still pending.
Additionally, he still awaits a federal trial, facing charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud, and conspiracy. He was also previously charged with arranging improper campaign donations to Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2014 re-election campaign but that case was dropped.
WBFO sought an interview with Pigeon's attorney, Paul Cambria, but was unsuccessful.
Pigeon's involvement in politics began as a teenager, including James Griffin's successful run for mayor in 1977. He was elected to the Erie County Legislature and served in that role from 1987 to 1991. Pigeon also chaired the Erie County Democratic Committee from 1996 through 2002. His tenure included support of successful election campaigns including those of Senator Charles Schumer, Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and then State Senator (and future Buffalo mayor) Byron Brown. He also had numerous political rivals and enemies within his own party, and led an unsuccessful attempt to recall Buffalo mayor Anthony Masiello in 1994. He also supported Rochester billionaire Tom Golisano, who ran for governor as a third-party candidate and later directed Golisano's Responsible New York political committee.
The current party chair, Jeremy Zellner, issued a written statement Friday afternoon in response to the guilty plea: "The Pigeon era is over. Even though Steve Pigeon left behind a legacy of reckless destructive division, our party today is stronger than ever, and our rebirth as a clean, accountable organization began the day he left.
"At last weekend’s reorganizational meeting, at least a third of the room raised their hands when asked if they were new to our ranks. That’s just one measure of the energy and enthusiasm that defines us in 2018.
"We are growing, we are united, and we have a bright future as we work together to elect Democrats and provide this community with the great leadership it deserves."