A Preetsmas Recap and Update

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It’s been just over two weeks since we first celebrated Preetsmas, and here are the posts we’ve done so far:

The First day of Preetsmas (5/28/15): State and Federal investigators raid the homes of political circusmaster Steve Pigeon, former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Chief of Staff to Chris Collins (NY-27), Chris Grant. We examine the likely connections between these three individuals, a brief history of the WNY Progressive Caucus (AwfulPAC), and we celebrate the first day of Preetsmas by concluding that there was likely a plan to move a casino to West Seneca.  There were more questions than answers, especially: why wasn’t AwfulPAC treasurer Kristy Mazurek raided, and what does Chris Grant have to do with anything? Could this reach as far as the Governor?

The Second day of Preetsmas (6/4/15): An in-depth look at the history and activities of the WNY Progressive Caucus, or AwfulPAC. I reported on this Pigeonista conflagration extensively as it happened, so I pulled it into an overall narrative.

The Third Day of Preetsmas (6/2/15): Seneca cigarette bootlegger Aaron Pierce and his various and sundry LLCs are brought up quite often, and we examine his connections to AwfulPAC and other politicians, including Assemblyman Mickey Kearns.

The Fourth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): More on the Kearns/Pierce connection; Chris Grant’s Herd Solutions is now based out of North Carolina? Steve Pigeon’s connections to Bricklayer’s Union boss Gene Caccamise; Mazurek is reported to be cooperating with authorities; the Senecas fire Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting as their Albany lobbyist.

The Fifth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): We discovered Steve Pigeon’s tax liens, the total of which approach $300,000. This directly contradicted the detailed and scholarly analysis that Bob McCarthy, amateur Esther Gulyas tax sleuth, conducted of Pigeon’s “tax records”.

The Sixth Day of Preetsmas  (6/4/15): Bob McCarthy’s reporting on Pigeon has been sloppy, overly deferential, and approached TMZ quality at times. Especial disgust is reserved for the Buffalo News’ repeated tactic of allowing a public figure to prove some point or another by showing his tax returns to reporters who, in turn, report on them as if they know what the hell they’re talking about. Carl Paladino, Chris Collins, and Steve Pigeon have all been able to avoid any real scrutiny or transparency by letting an untrained, non-expert reporter summarize what was contained in some papers that may or may not have been legitimate tax returns. We also published certain key documents from a pending lawsuit brought by the estate of the late Conservative fusion Party guru Billy Delmont against an LLC controlled by people including Pigeon and longtime acolyte Jack O’Donnell. Apparently, they spent over $300,000 on a newspaper group and building without having done a stitch of due diligence. We learn of a possible grant of immunity to someone inside City Hall, Ed Betz’s name comes up a few times, and Terry Connors denies that he’s representing Tim Kennedy, despite Kennedy’s campaign having paid Connors over $60,000 in late 2014.

The Seventh Day of Preetsmas (6/5/15): Frank Max and his PAC gave way more than the maximum allowed to two AwfulPAC candidates in 2013; we examined some very odd financial “disclosures” involving “Responsible New York”, GDSP, LLC, “Citizens for Fiscal Integrity”, and “People for Accountable Government. Roger Stone’s name comes up, and we take a brief look at current aide to State Senator Marc Panepinto, David Pfaff. We wonder about coordination, given that Wes Moore gave $300 to the PAC then supporting him, we examine that weird AwfulPAC loan to Pigeon’s Landen Associates, and some other financial oddities regarding the Dick Dobson for Sheriff campaign. AJ Pierce lost a big court battle, and we look at whether State Senator Tim Kennedy and some other entities should have been filing as having participated in the 2013 primary races.

The Eighth Day of Preetsmas (6/7/15): There was a Buffalo News story about money orders that had allegedly been bought and donated to AwfulPAC in contravention of several laws, and we reported that someone had put Matt Connors’ name on those money orders, without his knowledge. Connors works for local developer Nick Sinatra. We write some more about Jack O’Donnell, Kristy Mazurek, Marketing Tech and its connection with Steve Casey, and we break the story about how AwfulPAC changed its status in mid-stream.

The Ninth Day of Preetsmas (6/9/15): Examining Pigeon’s claimed addresses, including Sandi Schmidt’s Cheektowaga address, his apparent residency in a condo owned by ganjapreneur Dan Humiston, the fee liens filed against that condo, his use of attorney John Bartolomei’s address, and we look at the lobbying activity of PAPI Consulting, LLC and GDSP, LLC.

The Tenth day of Preetsmas (6/11/15): We define the term “Pigeoning” or “to Pigeon”, and look back at prior efforts to Pigeon races in 2004 and 2008 using various campaign entities, including Tom Golisano’s “Responsible New York”. We compare this to the activities of AwfulPAC in 2013 – especially the Sam Fruscione race – and we examine Chris Grant’s only available financial disclosure to the House of Representatives, dated March 2013.

The Eleventh Day of Preetsmas (6/12/15): We’ve obtained the CF-02 and revisions, as well as the very very late CF-03 for AwfulPAC and examine what it all means, including the absence of some key names from that document. Also, Channel 2’s Steve Brown reported on interesting interactions he had with the owner of Marketing Technologies, and with a spokesman for Nick Sinatra .

Preetsmas: In their Own Words (6/14/15): Using quotes taken directly from the Buffalo News, we take a little trip down memory lane, revisiting prior electoral issues surrounding Steve Pigeon, and we see the progression in the AwfulPAC investigation from total denial to attorneys making statements.

No one’s been accused, indicted, or convicted of any crime in connection with any of this. The purpose of these various Preetsmas posts is to push out what’s there, to establish patterns of conduct among groups, individuals, and campaigns, and to try and figure out what may ultimately come from all of this. We just don’t know yet, but rumors are now swirling that indictments should come within the next several weeks. We don’t know against whom or for what.

Preetsmas Update

The Buffalo News published an interesting article on Sunday focusing on direct mail. Specifically, it’s alleged that Steve Casey and Chris Grant were deeply involved with direct mail for AwfulPAC, which accounted for a huge chunk of that group’s expenditures in 2013. Casey would reportedly come up with the general concept, and Grant would turn that into an actual mail piece, and the files were sent to Marketing Tech and Gallagher Printing for production and mailing. However, if you look at the financial disclosures, only the payments to the printing shops show up – these shops would allegedly, in turn, pay Casey and Grant directly, (or through Casey’s “LSA Solutions” and Grant’s “HERD Solutions”, respectively).

From the News’ article:

The WNY Progressive Caucus paid the printer for the design and printing costs, and then the printer paid Grant and Casey, the sources said. The total cost therefore showed up on campaign filings as an expense paid to the printer.

A similar billing process was used for work Grant and Casey also did together for Brown’s 2013 re-election campaign, according to a source who has knowledge of their relationship.

State election law requires that second-party payments be itemized if they are over $5,000. The News could not find evidence of any political campaign in New York State filing such reports.

9 NYCRR §6200.8 says,

Whenever a person or entity, such as a consultant acting on behalf of a political committee which supports or opposes candidates for any public office or party position or which supports or opposes any proposition, subcontracts for finished goods or services, the treasurer of the committee shall, in addition to reporting the expenditure made to such consultant or agent, report the name, address and amount expended to each person or entity providing such goods or services the cost of which exceeds … $5,000. The treasurer of any committee which makes such expenditures may, in lieu of providing such information on the statement which lists the expenditure, include the information on a separate schedule to be filed with the committee’s 27-day post general election statement or if it relates to a primary election, with the 10-day post primary statement. In such case the schedule entry shall reference the statement in which the expenditure is listed.

Any lawyer will tell you that the regulatory or legislative use of the word “shall” denotes mandatory – not discretionary – conduct. The question isn’t whether anyone – or no one – actually does what the law says, but whether the law requires it to be done. No one goes 65 on the New York State Thruway, but that’s not a defense to getting a ticket for going 80.

From the Buffalo News,

… the billing process used to pay Casey and Grant for work done for the WNY Progressive Caucus raised a red flag for investigators. Their probe includes following the money trail to learn where Pigeon’s political committee raised money, and where the money went.

And several elected officials contacted by The Buffalo News, who did not want to be identified because they didn’t want to be drawn into the controversy, said that while it was legal, the billing process WNY Progressive Caucus used seems unusual. Casey was placing the orders with the printer who paid him and Grant, which resulted in the printer being identified on campaign records but not them. That gives the impression that the two didn’t want their role with Pigeon’s organization publicly known, these sources said.

Was it “legal”? Perhaps not, according to the letter of the law – more specifically the regulation shown above as it relates to any fees to consultants in excess of $5,000. It also violates the spirit of the law, which exists to provide the public with transparency and information as to who is paying whom for campaign and election work. AwfulPAC contracted with Byron Brown’s Deputy Mayor and a Republican Congressional aide to design the campaign literature for candidates from whom AwfulPAC was allegedly independent.

Is there enough here to prove illegal coordination? It’s nice to have confirmation that the Republicans are actively involved in conspiring with the Pigeon faction to sabotage the Erie County Democratic Committee and its candidates. We can take Mickey Kearns’ word for it – “Chris Grant does work for all Republicans”. More specifically, could AwfulPAC have simply been a joint effort by the Pigeonists and the Republicans to embarrass ECDC and its Chairman, Jeremy Zellner, and to ensure that a Republican majority would take over the County Legislature? The entire Pigeoning M.O. relies on stealth – it was wholly by accident that we learned of AwfulPAC when we did, so it should come as no surprise that it would dance around the edges of legality in order to hide the identities of its consultants, vendors, and supporters to whatever degree possible.

Turning back to AwfulPAC’s disclosure – even today, we have no idea who produced the Dick Dobson TV commercials that AwfulPAC paid for. Someone was paid to produce them – did that person interact with the candidate? How did they obtain the photographs of Dobson that were used in the ads? Did AwfulPAC use a middleman or consultant to place TV ads with Buying Time, LLC from Washington, D.C.? Mayor Byron Brown and Governor Andrew Cuomo also use that firm, and it was the subpoena to Buying Time that reportedly caused Governor Cuomo to interfere with the Moreland Commission’s investigation. This all seems like a pretty major league operation just to screw around with a handful of small-potatoes county legislative races.

Hell, if we really want to get into the question of coordination, here’s a question – AwfulPAC paid “Start to Finish” $500 for “photography” on August 26, 2013. Whom or what did they pay to photograph? The gentleman whom I called refused to answer.

D’Amato & Park Strategies

The Daily News published an article about former Senator Al D’Amato’s power in Albany, and this passage caught quite a few eyes:

But the recent D’Amato scandal connections don’t all revolve around Albany. The FBI and state investigators hit the headlines in Buffalo recently when they raided the homes of three major political operatives, including Steve Pigeon and Steve Casey, both of whom work for one of D’Amato’s biggest upstate clients, the Congel family, father-and-son mall developers.

Their companies paid D’Amato $2.7 million in federal and state lobbying fees. Not only did D’Amato represent the Congel company on a troubled Rochester project, he represented the Monroe County government that backed it.

Pigeon ally and donor Joel Giambra heads up the local office of D’Amato’s Park Strategies.

Kennedy hires Ed Betz

Ed Betz is a young lawyer whose name has come up quite a bit in connection with recent Pigeonings. He has represented Aaron Pierce, and he represents Jack O’Donnell and Steve Pigeon in connection with the lawsuit brought by the Billy Delmont estate.

In May, Betz became an employee of the state Senate as counsel to AwfulPAC donor State Senator Tim Kennedy. He is a former employee of the City of Buffalo and the Erie County Water Authority.

The Sinatra – Pigeon Connection?

Ever since local developer Nick Sinatra’s name came up within the context of the mysteriously purchased money orders, no one has quite understood the connection between them. Perhaps a few articles from faraway San Diego might clear that up? In May 2014, the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about the real estate situation in that area, and this is notable:

“This business is not for the faint of heart,” said Anthony Nanula, the group’s San Diego manager. Last month, American Coastal sold a home at 1330 Eighth Ave. in downtown that was built in 1920. The Irvine-based group bought the property for $720,000, restored it and closed a deal for about $1.825 million, a sale price they consider a success.

American Coastal Properties has about 12 projects in San Diego County and 30 in Southern California. Those add to the 50 homes already revamped and sold. The group also recently secured $50 million from Colony Capital and the Pritzker/Vlock Family Office to buy and redevelop single-family properties throughout coastal Southern California. That continues a big change from what founding partner Nick Sinatra originally did in 2009: buy homes at auction to fix and flip in the Inland Empire.

“We were purchasing properties at the trustee sales, buying from banks, fixing them up and reselling them,” Sinatra said. “That business sort of was getting squeezed out by some of the institutional people, so we started to look at adding more value through construction.”

So, Pigeon assocate Anthony Nanula is the San Diego manager of a company founded by Nick Sinatra. The Nanulas also work with Sinatra on at least one local project. For his part, in 2013 Pigeon donated $1,000 to San Diego’s GOP Mayor, Nathan Fletcher, raising some Californian eyebrows.

The Nanulas’ Clarence office was the address for the AwfulPAC-backed Wes Moore campaign. The Sinatra projects are funded, at least in part, by an investment from the Pritzker/Vlock Family Office.

Feel free to send tips, info, hints, and bags of cash to buffalopundit[at]gmail.com.

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