Pigeon, AwfulPAC Reportedly Under Investigation

Credit: Steve Pigeon, Via Twitter

It seems that when Erie County Democrats aren’t battling local Republicans, they’re busy ripping each other to shreds.  In its biennial outbreak of trench warfare between various Democratic factions, the party is too distracted by insider nonsense to remember how to win key elections.

In 2013, the Democratic headquarters/Jeremy Zellner faction endorsed several candidates for the county legislature, as well as Bert Dunn for county sheriff. The Steve Pigeon faction backed different candidates for all of those races, including Dick Dobson for sheriff. On its face, that’s no big deal – primary races during primary season.

But what may have started out as a typical Pigeonesque trolling of county HQ has developed some serious legs.

The suspected Pigeon modus operandi is to use go-betweens and shell corporations or LLCs to funnel money to, from, and between his candidates and certain campaign consultants and companies to do lit, polling, signs, and media buys. They use rhetorical sledgehammers to demolish their opponents with whatever smear they can muster – ask Sam Hoyt. It’s all a well-oiled machine that has few accomplishments, other than spending other people’s money and occasionally harming Democratic candidates in general elections.

The problem is that apparent campaign finance and disclosure violations are seldom investigated and almost never prosecuted.  At least, not in Erie County.

In 2013, Pigeon and erstwhile political commentator Kristy Mazurek set up the “WNY Progressive Caucus”.  It was set up as a PAC – the election law doesn’t use that term, but as an unauthorized committee, the WNYPC could raise and spend money to donate to specific campaigns, but was not allowed to coordinate with them, or spend money on their behalf. I called it “AwfulPAC”.

In early September 2013, just weeks before primary day, the WNYPC paid for thousands of pieces of literature to be mailed to voters, slamming legislative candidates backed by party headquarters; most notably, Tim Hogues, Betty Jean Grant, Wynnie Fisher, and Lynn Dearmyer. By way of example, one piece of WNYPC lit slammed Hogues for being a “Republican”, and promoted the candidacy of his challenger, Barbara Miller-Williams – a woman who quite literally conspired with Republicans to mount a legislative coup in 2010.

WNYPC’s disclosures were not complete.  For a time, it showed the PAC to be in the red – a big no-no. Disclosures came in late. Disclosures were inaccurate or misleading, in one instance showing a donation from a different, long-dormant Pigeon-associated PAC, “Democratic Action”.  What was odd about that purported $9,000 donation from Democratic Action was that it did not disclose any outflow of money during the same 2013 cycle, and had most recently showed a fund balance of $2,400 and a concomitant “no activity” report with the Board of Elections.

Dick Dobson embarrassed Bert Dunn on primary night. Dunn decided to waste his money and run on a tailor-made third party line, unsuccessfully. WNYPC abandoned Dobson, however, during the general election. None of Mazurek’s legislative candidates won, so she used Michael Caputo’s PoliticsWNY.com to smear Wynnie Fisher, who had defeated Mazurek’s candidate, Wes Moore.  Apparently, Fisher and her neighbors don’t get along, so a story was planted accusing Fisher of being crazy.

The problem was that the letter was sent to Wes Moore at an address in Lancaster. But Moore’s campaign committee was based in the Nanulas’ offices in Clarence. The Lancaster address was a house on Doris Avenue where Mazurek was living, and which also served as the mailing address for WNYPC. There was, on its face, a smoking gun of coordination. How and why would Wynnie Fisher’s neighbors decide to send a letter to an address for Wes Moore that didn’t exist in nature?

In late September 2013, Tim Hogues and Betty Jean Grant, with an assist from anti-Pigeon transparency advocate Mark Sacha, filed a formal complaint with the New York State Board of Elections, accusing Pigeon, Mazurek, and WNYPC of various illegalities and violations of campaign finance law.

Geoff Kelly reports at the Public that the investigation has wings .

After the County Board of Elections resolved to investigate the complaint, it was turned over to the state BOE, which in turn appears to have turned it over to the Attorney General’s office and State Police. Once an investigation such as this is put into the hands of people outside of Buffalo, you know that the threat of shenanigans is decreased exponentially.

Kelly reports that police interviewed several people at the county legislature. I have confirmed that at least one of the legislative candidates from 2013 was also interviewed.  Subpoenas have been issued and action taken to enforce them. Don’t be surprised if forensic accountants are trying to account for all the money – where it came from, and how it was spent.

Kelly also reports that real estate deals and former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey are under investigation. This likely has something to do with the Seneca Mall project, where Casey is now employed.

For once, at long last, it seems that campaign finance and election laws are being enforced in a serious way. Will there be a prosecution? Time will tell, but something big is going on behind the scenes, and it’s being directed by very serious people from outside the area.

AwfulPAC Hilarity in Rochester

In the news: Kristy Mazurek and her AwfulPAC claim to have helped elect the next Mayor of Rochester, Lovely Warren. Warren responds, “who?” 

But as Warren sought to pivot from the campaign, a Buffalo activist behind a political action committee under investigation for election law violations claimed last week that her group was “representing” Warren in the election.

Warren will become the city’s first female mayor when she takes office in January. She defeated Mayor Thomas Richards and challenger Alex White last week after a lengthy campaign that saw considerable involvement by individuals and groups outside the candidates’ own campaign committees.

Richards had an unofficial campaign spring up weeks after he ended his own. Warren had close friend and Albany lobbyist Robert Scott Gaddy drop more than $40,000 on radio ads in the days before the primary. Then last week, activist Kristy L. Mazurek, the co-founder of the Western New York Progressive Caucus told WBEN930 in Buffalo on Thursday that the caucus was “representing” Warren in her mayoral campaign. No contributions are shown in either the PAC or Warren’s financial disclosure statements, however.

“I don’t even know who that is,” Warren said when first asked about Mazurek.

When later provided a description, she recalled meeting Mazurek at a luncheon days before the election but said they had no contact before or since. The luncheon was a fundraiser hosted, she said, by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown “and his team.” Brown reached out after the primary to offer his support, she said, and he along with Assembly member Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, (who also assisted Warren in the primary) offered to do the fundraiser.

AwfulPAC: Being awful since August 2013, and now under investigation. 

AwfulPAC

Yesterday, I wrote about the Kristy Mazurek / 2Sides / Steve Pigeon involvement in a shiny new PAC that sent out thousands of unattributed campaign literature smearing incumbent Democratic county legislators Betty Jean Grant and Tim Hogues, and supporting challengers Joyce Wilson Nixon and Barbara Miller-Williams. Instead of focusing on the politics as usual, I noted that the state should really change the rules to require that campaign advertisements disclose who paid for them

Yesterday afternoon, the PAC’s financial disclosure was revealed on the Board of Elections’ website, and Geoff Kelly wrote up most of the details in Artvoice’s print edition. Big news was a $45,000 influx of cash from Senator Tim Kennedy’s campaign fund, which represents a huge middle finger to, among others, Betty Jean Grant, who not only primaried Kennedy last year, but came within spitting distance of defeating him through a write-in campaign. There was also a $20,000 “loan” from Steve Pigeon.

But what we also noticed last night was the list of 24-hour notices of massive contributions. Here it is: 

Frank Max gave almost $2,000. Steve Pigeon donated a straight $30,000 – no loan, just cash. AJ Wholesale is a business that is not located in New York State, but on sovereign Seneca territory. It is owned by Aaron Pierce, who was targeted in 2010 for possibly illegal tax-free cigarette shipments in violation of federal law. Pierce unsuccessfully ran for Seneca President in 2012. He’s given money to Kennedy, among others: 

AJ Wholesale didn’t appear in any searches for prior donations. Curious, that. 

Preetsmas: Pigeon’s New Liens

Are your stockings still hung by the chimney with care? Preetsmas isn’t over. Here’s a recap of what we did so far:

Today comes news that two new liens have been filed with the Erie County Clerk’s office against G. Stephen Pigeon, the political dirty trickster and former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee.

On December 8th, the IRS filed a federal tax lien of over $65,800.

Pigeon 12/2015 Federal Tax Lien

On December 22nd, the Admiral’s Walk condominium association filed a lien against Pigeon for $4,500 in unpaid condominium fees.

Pigeon Condo Lien 12/2015

One of the biggest Preetsmas mysteries has involved Pigeon’s ability to finance the massive cash outlays he supposedly made to and for candidates and committees. On the 5th day of Preetsmas (late June 2015), we revealed that Pigeon had over $200,000 in liens asserted against him at that time, (March 2012 federal tax lien for $26,500; March 2014 federal tax lien for $118,600; June 2, 2015 federal tax lien for $126,200), so we can add about $70,000 to that figure. You may also recall that Pigeon has previously been caught in apparent arrears on his condominium fees and/or assessments, as he and tanning mogul Dan Humiston seemed to swap ownership and/or possession of two separate units at Admiral’s Walk.

Dedicated readers will recall that in February 2015, Pigeon used the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy for propaganda purposes, asserting that he had more than enough liquid funds to play his typical games. He showed up with what he said were tax forms that purported to show that he had enough income to shell out six figures to obscure small-potatoes political committees.

Pigeon opened his tax returns from the past several years to inspection at The News’ request in an effort to quell speculation that his contributions to the Progressive Caucus stemmed from anywhere but his own bank account. His records over the past three years indicate a mid-six-figure income, which he says proves his ability to spare $100,000 even for a fund supporting relatively low-level candidates.

He can afford big donations to a political cause the same way others could contribute to a church, he said, especially because he has no wife or children to support, takes few vacations, has no real hobbies and lives a non-extravagant lifestyle.

“It sounds odd, but when you look at how I live and how much I make, it really isn’t,” he said.

He didn’t reveal his existing tax liens at the time, however.

These new liens are post-raid – the condo fees go back as far as June 2015 – and underscore the difficulty in which Mr. Pigeon finds himself. One may also extrapolate from the IRS lien that Mr. Pigeon’s 2014 gross income was high enough to result in a $65,000 tax liability.

Preetsmas in September

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It’s been weeks – months – since we last checked in on Preetsmas.

You may recall that on May 28th, state police and FBI agents raided the homes of three prominent political consultants, former county Democratic chairman Steve Pigeon, former deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Congressman Chris Collins’ chief of staff, Chris Grant. Authorities are investigating campaign finance and election law irregularities of the WNY Progressive Caucus (hereinafter referred to as “AwfulPAC”), and the extent to which they jibe with real life. There’s been speculation that the AwfulPAC investigation branched off into other matters .

Throughout June, we drilled down through the various disclosures and discussed or analyzed how they might be evidence of some illegality:

The First day of Preetsmas (5/28/15): The raids & an introduction

The Second day of Preetsmas (6/4/15): All about AwfulPAC

The Third Day of Preetsmas (6/2/15): Seneca cigarette bootlegger Aaron Pierce & Mickey Kearns.

The Fourth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Steve Pigeon, PAPI, and Gene Caccamise

The Fifth Day of Preetsmas (6/3/15): Pigeon’s Tax Liens

The Sixth Day of Preetsmas  (6/4/15): Analyzing tax returns, and litigation surrounding the sale of the Front Page/South Buffalo News

The Story of Preetsmas (6/4/15): Background on AwfulPAC

The Seventh Day of Preetsmas (6/5/15): Financial Shenanigans with Pigeon-connected PACs

The Eighth Day of Preetsmas (6/7/15): The Money Orders and AwfulPAC

The Ninth Day of Preetsmas (6/9/15): Pigeon’s addresses and Ganjapreneurs

The Tenth day of Preetsmas (6/11/15): The Pigeoning

The Eleventh Day of Preetsmas (6/12/15): AwfulPAC FOIL

Preetsmas: In their Own Words (6/14/15): A trip down memory lane

A Preetsmas Recap and Update (6/16/15): Updates on the investigation

The Preetsmas Mysteries (6/22/15): More about the AwfulPAC money orders

Let’s Talk About “Mistakes Were Made” in Campaign Finance Law (7/14/15): On the question of intent.

The statute of limitations for misdemeanors under the election law is two years from the date of a filing. It’s now mid-September 2015, and 2 year anniversary of the first batch of AwfulPAC’s 2013 reports has come and gone with no prosecution. It’s possible that prosecutors may instead choose to proceed under the New York State Penal Law, for filing a false instrument – a felony.  That may be a cleaner, easier explanation to a (grand or trial) juror.

It may be that prosecutors have focused more on other crimes, all well within the felony category.  It would be a shame to have them ignore the Election Law
even if these people are convicted on other things, because it’s the precedent that’s important – to avoid similar future violations, like illegal coordination.  These sorts of activities have been happening for a long time – at least since 1999, when similiar shenanigans took place on behalf of David Dale vs. Greg Olma, and for Jack O’Donnell vs. Al DeBenedetti. The people who think this all matters can afford to be patient.

Just this past primary season, we had two campaign committees get involved in Cheektowaga that are in blatant violation of the election law; Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY and a new committee called “Right Democratic Team” clearly participated in the September 2015 primaries, but improperly failed to make the proper financial disclosures. Neither committee filed primary reports, despite things like this happening:

Close readers of the Preetsmas series will recall Aaron Pierce of Irving, NY as having been invested in AwfulPAC, as well. He was a topic of discussion on the 4th and 7th days of Preetsmas. Two of Pierce’s companies found themselves in deep trouble, resulting in a guilty plea and over $1 million in fines, and Pierce lavishly exploits the LLC loophole to plunge tens of thousands of dollars into campaigns.

Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY received $25,000 from one person just days before a primary election it never disclosed to anyone that it was participating in. Where did the money go? How was it spent – as a donation to one or more campaigns, or to make independent expenditures on other campaigns’ behalf? Whom was the committee supporting or opposing in September’s primary? Why didn’t it file the required forms and disclosures? Is this just another “oops we made a mistake?”

What, exactly, is Pierce buying by throwing $25,000 at Cheektowaga

This is yet another case where a Max- or Pigeon-controlled political committee tries secretly to influence a primary election and does everything it can to avoid drawing attention to itself. Long after it’s too late to matter, or to comply with the letter or spirit of the law, the committee files a flurry of disclosures or amends old ones. It will file forms with the board of elections to reveal the candidates it was backing or opposing months from now – months too late to matter, and months later than required. And, in the end, we’re meant to believe that a person who used to be a town committee chair, has been involved for decades, and who has vied to be the county committee chair did it by mistake and didn’t know any better.

If you have any information concerning this investigation, please feel free confidentially to contact me at buffalopundit[at]gmail.com.

Transparency and Election Law: Cheektowaga

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A couple of years ago, Cheektowaga’s Democratic Committee ousted Frank Max, the head of the Progressive Democrats of WNY committee, as its chairman. Until now, no one thought Max’s group was at all involved in this year’s primary race for town supervisor.

Several Democrats in the town are vying for the supervisor job, including Councilmember Diane Benczkowski and Town Clerk Alice Magierski. The former is aligned with current committee chairman and Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner; the latter is aligned with Max, the town’s former head of sanitation.

On Tuesday, Cheektowaga Democrats found in their mailboxes a mailer slamming Benczkowski and Wegner, and the direct mail piece was marked as paid for by the Progressive Democrats of Western New York—Max’s group.

The problem is that the Progressive Democrats of WNY hasn’t filed the requisite financial disclosures with the Board of Elections.

Max’s political committee would have to declare its support for Magierski or against Benczkowski in order to make independent expenditures on their behalf. Otherwise, a PAC is only allowed to raise and contribute money. Furthermore, a PAC is presumed to be participating in a primary election unless it expressly files a document with the BOE indicating that it is sitting this one out.

By spending money on a mailer involving a primary race, Max’s group has run afoul of the law, and is late in filing its 32-day pre-primary report, and its 11-day pre-primary report. No one knows how much money they’ve spent, how much they’ve raised, or whom they’re supporting. When you slam your opponent for lack of transparency, it would behoove you to be transparent yourself. When you call for “clean” government, do it with clean hands.

Any candidate that will not, in any way, support or oppose a candidate or issue on the ballot for a particular election will not have to file any reports for that election. If you are a registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee, you must, however, inform the Board by filing a Notice of Non-Participation in Election(s) by a Registered PAC, Party or Constituted Committee (CF-20 ). Failure to file a CF-20, when applicable, may result in penalties being assessed against the treasurer of a committee.

The committee is no newcomer to this, and has known to make these disclosures in the past.

As a possibly related matter, Ken Kruly’s excellent article dated September 8 reveals the identity of a political committee called the “Right Democratic Team.”  Kruly writes,

On July 21st Magierski’s committee cut a check for $500 to something called the “Right Democratic Team” committee. Such a committee does in fact exist on the State Board of Elections website, with a Cheektowaga address, but it has not filed any disclosure reports. So where did that $500 check go and for what purpose? Perhaps it is nothing much, or perhaps it is the 2015 version of the WNY Progressive Caucus or WNY Freedom, which have had Pigeon-related problems in reporting all their financial activities.

Donations to the Right Democratic Team also came from the Committee to elect Steven Specyal, who is seeking a seat on the Cheektowaga Town Board; Freedman for Families, supporting Barbara Freedman’s bid for Erie County Family Court; and Friends of Jerry Kaminski, who is seeking reelection to the Town Board.

The Right Democratic Team is registered to an address that, according to the Cheektowaga town assessment, belongs to current Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary Holtz. (Holtz announced in March that she would not seek re-election.) That address, 18 Brookedge Road in Depew, is listed on the record of Kaminski’s donation to the Right Democratic Team. Curiously, the donations from the other committees to the Right Democratic Team were directed to 1101 Losson Road in Cheektowaga—a property that belongs to Kaminski. Bear that in mind if, in the aftermath of Thursday’s primary, there are allegations of coordination between the Right Democratic Team and the candidates it supports.

In any case, as Kruly points out, if money was exchanged between the Right Democratic Team and any of these committees, then the Right Democratic Team is also dramatically late in filing its 32-day and 11-day pre-primary disclosures.

It’s almost like AwfulPAC became a primer, rather than a cautionary tale.

Let’s Talk about “Mistakes Were Made” in Campaign Finance

Dream deeply - Google Chrome 2015-07-13 15.08.57

Everyone makes mistakes. The more charitable among us ask people to learn from them, lest they be repeated.

When it comes to issues relating to New York’s already comically lax and porous campaign finance regulations, mistakes can certainly be tolerated, but only up to a point.

After a while, “mistakes were made” becomes a convenient excuse uttered to avoid criminal liability.

One of the first things a student of criminal law learns is to define “mens rea” and “actus reus”. The latter is the commission of an illegal act – anything from stealing a piece of candy to murder. The former involves the trickier question of intent. The penalty for the illegal act of homicide is different for intentional murder as opposed to accidental manslaughter. It can even be excused altogether in the case of, say, self-defense. Therefore, it behooves someone caught doing something wrong to simply say it was an accident – a mistake or clerical error.

That might make a prosecutor’s job more difficult, but intent is usually proven through circumstantial evidence.

The Buffalo News published a story on Sunday written by Bob McCarthy, but the information therein was clearly supplied by Republican Board of Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr. McCarthy and Mohr explain that the Buffalo Republican Committee is out of money, and that its prior chairman stands accused of draining its treasury by making donations to political committees controlled by rogue nominal Democrat G. Stephen Pigeon.

Pigeon is believed to be a target of the state and federal investigations into campaign finance illegalities we’ve come to know as “Preetsmas“. At least since his ouster as chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, Pigeon has made a career of of attracting and funnelling big money to thwart the Democratic Party and help transactional malefactors like Pedro Espada, or the Republican Party, as happened in Erie County in 2009 and 2013. He stands accused of doing this through careful manipulation and exploitation of the outer edges of campaign finance legality. When he or his lieutenants push through the regulatory envelope, they can just say it was a clerical error; a mistake; inadvertent.

But they’ve been doing this for years. They’re professionals. This is what they do. Nothing is a mistake – all of it is calculated, based on the presumption of regulatory and prosecutorial distraction and inaction.

The Buffalo Republican Committee contributed a jaw-dropping $9,200 in October 2014 alone, and none of the recipients of that money accounted for it in mandatory reporting to the state Board of Elections. $4,700 of that was donated to yet another, hitherto unpaid-attention-to Steve Pigeon ratfcking PAC called “WNY Freedom”.

Pigeon set up “WNY Freedom” in late 2013, around the same time that the Preetsmas target WNY Progressive Caucus (a/k/a “AwfulPAC“) was winding its activities down. Its first donations, as the News reported, came from Carl Paladino.

Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino, who also is not suspected of any wrongdoing, said Pigeon asked him to donate $1,000 in October 2013 – immediately after the WNY Progressive Caucus raised $267,000 for opponents of candidates backed by Pigeon adversaries in Democratic headquarters.

For some reason, Carl didn’t just send a check for $1,000, but instead broke it down into five separate $200 donations made by five separate Carl-controlled LLCs, making good use of New York’s execrable LLC loophole.

“WNY Freedom” filed “no activity” statements in every 2014 financial disclosure report to the State BOE, which leads me to believe that Pigeon was planning to use it for whatever Pigeoning sabotage he was planning to undertake against Democrats during the 2015 election cycle – a sabotage that has been thwarted thanks to a distraction courtesy of state and federal investigators. And that’s the problem, because the city Republicans gave WNY Freedom $4,700.

Paladino told the News that he gave the money to Pigeon’s PAC because

He said he viewed the city GOP and Pfaff as helpful toward building a new majority on the School Board, but never knew how his donation would be used.

We still don’t, as WNY Freedom has never disclosed any expenditures whatsoever. It is true, however, that Pfaff helped Paladino by assisting in gathering petitions for Patty Pierce, Paladino’s majority ally on the school board. It should be noted that Pfaff lives in Kenmore.

Pigeon earlier this year blamed “clerical errors” for discrepancies in figures reported to the Board of Elections for purchases of television advertising by the WNY Progressive Caucus and the actual amounts spent at local stations.

Pfaff, meanwhile, acknowledged mistakes in keeping WNY Progressive Caucus records, especially in reporting that Pigeon received $25,000 from the committee for consulting services. Though Pfaff acknowledged listing the $25,000 as an expenditure, he called it a mistake. He and Pigeon said the money was never received, with Pigeon blaming “sloppy” record-eeping for the entry in the campaign reports.

Pfaff now claims more mistakes and problems communicating with the state board for the failure to record any donations to WNY Freedom.

Pfaff went on to claim that the state board didn’t recognize that he had replaced someone else as treasurer of WNY Freedom. It’s true that the state BOE lists a Franklin Street address for WNY Freedom, not Pfaff’s Kenmore address. But it would have been incumbent on Pfaff to take affirmative steps to make the necessary changes and disclosures – not wait until July 2015 when Bob McCarthy starts calling. The Buffalo Republicans went from $20,000 to $450 in one reporting cycle.

“Two guys came in and gave me their card. We had a pleasant chat,” he said. “I did not knowingly or willingly break election law. I just don’t do that.

“There was poor record-keeping and poor filing,” he added. “I don’t do this for a living, I do it to help out people. And people make mistakes.”

They sure do, but how long have David Pfaff and Steve Pigeon been doing stuff? Over a decade? How do you not know to accomplish one of the most basic things – disclosing contributions made to the political committee for which you’re supposedly treasurer. And if Pfaff wasn’t the treasurer, then it was the treasurer’s duty to do it correctly. This is neither rocket science nor some obscure trap for the unwary.

Former Buffalo Republican Treasurer Joseph J. Surdyk Jr. last September initially made out his committee’s check to People for Accountable Government, another Pigeon-connected independent committee that was active in the 2008 campaign. According to a copy of the check obtained by The News, Surdyk then crossed out People for Accountable Government as payee and substituted WNY Freedom.

Although things are somewhat quiet on the Preetsmas front, don’t for a second think that Kristy Mazurek and Steve Casey have been taking the summer off. They both carried petitions for Michele Brown, a Family Court candidate, and for Mike Drmacich, who is running for Tonawanda City Court. I’m still trying to figure out why Drmacich has a picture with Conservative fusion Party Chairman Ralph Lorigo on his website.

As for Pfaff, who is now on staff with Senator Marc Panepinto, his name has come up repeatedly throughout this Preetsmas holiday season; (here, here, here, here, here, and here). He has been politically involved for years, most of that time as one of Pigeon’s worker bee.

There’s no way “mistakes were made” here, just like no mistakes were made in any of this. Everything that is happening was undertaken deliberately, with the expectation that nothing would come of it; that even if the authorities got wise to it, there’d be a slap on the wrist.

The only “mistake” that was made was overplaying their hand in 2013 and catching the attention of the county and state Boards of Election, and the office of the Attorney General and U.S. Attorney.

Preetsmas: Cuomo’s Pay to Play Illustrated

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Now you know that the whole anti-corruption thing was just an act. Now you know that the Moreland Commission was a joke. In July of last year, I called it “Cuomo’s Betrayal”.

On the Fourth day of Preetsmas, I wrote this about Gene Caccamise, the Rochester-based former head of the Bricklayer’s Local 3:

I used an image for a post that Steve Pigeon had Tweeted in 2013 to rebut an article of mine where I recounted two sources’ recollections that they had heard Governor Cuomo admonish Pigeon to stay out of the Hamister deal in Niagara Falls. Indeed, in all my years of writing about Pigeon, this was the one and only instance where he ever directly addressed one of my posts. He went on to write,

Gene Caccamise.

Pigeon’s Tweets are dated September 12th, and the primary election had been held on September 10th. The image was taken, and the exchange with the Governor was held on the Sunday before the primary. Pigeon’s AwfulPAC (WNYPC) effectively ceased all activity after September 10th. A singular donation of $25,000 from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 3 was quite puzzling, and no one reported on it until I brought it up in July 2014.

Pigeon’s friend Gene Caccamise was the regional head of that Bricklayer’s Union local until his resignation in March 2015. As to that donation, no one understood why it was made, and it’s glaringly odd because a $25,000 donation would have practically emptied the union’s PAC’s account. The image above is taken from Pigeon’s WNYPC 2013 11-day pre-primary filing. By contrast, this is what the Bricklayer’s union’s disclosure shows on its corresponding 11-day pre-primary filing:

Now, take a look at this incredible story from WGRZ and Steve Brown.

We now know that the union’s PAC didn’t make the contribution – the $25,000 came from the union’s treasury, and Caccamise told WGRZ’s Steve Brown that it was the “best money [he] ever spent, because it bought him an audience with the Governor and work for his union members.

But in the clip below, Caccamise explains that his Local also donated $30,000 directly to Cuomo. So, $30,000 alone doesn’t buy you access? You also have to separately contribute to a Steve Pigeon ratfcking PAC and get Pigeon to intervene with the Governor on your behalf? Why that PAC? Why not, say, hire Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting to lobby the Governor? That “AwfulPAC” was active for only a few short weeks – how did Caccamise know to contribute to it? How did he even know it existed?

My theory is that Caccamise is fumfering about that question when Steve Brown asks it for a reason – it was probably solicited.

I don’t understand why a union would find it necessary to contribute to a campaign committee that was set up to support a weak Sheriff candidate and to help flip the legislature over to the Republicans; typical Pigeon ratfcking.

But at least we now know why the contribution was never reported by the Local’s PAC – it was a direct contribution from the union’s own coffers. It bears repeating that the Buffalo rep for the union local was puzzled by the contribution and had no knowledge of it, or why it was made. From the WGRZ story,

Caccamise says, “I found out Steve Pigeon was consulting with the Governor and one of his go-to people for Buffalo and I says, ‘What can I do to help? I need jobs,’ ” said Caccamise.

The union’s own political warchest was low. A reduction of hours for members meant union dues were down. But, Caccamise was ready to dip into the local’s treasury, and he did, cutting the check for 25-grand to WNYPC.

“There’s no law against giving money away,” Caccamise said.

And afterwards, things started happening.

“That 25-thousand dollars was probably the best money I’ve ever spent, because I got to talk to the Governor. I got to sit with him telling him our problem and he listened.”

Then, work began flowing to BAC#3. Secretary/treasurer Richard Williams listed some of three big construction jobs members have worked, all on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus: the new Oishei Childrens Hospital, UB’s bio-sciences center and Roswell’s new building for genetic and pharmacology research.

The union needed work. The union donated to a PAC to get close to Pigeon. A meeting with the Governor followed…and there was work.

If it sounds like pay-to-play politics to you, Caccamise disagrees.

“I’m not a politician. I’m a guy who represents 1,800 working men and their families and that’s basically what it was all about . It nothing to do with politics. It had nothing to do with anything.”

Right. I’m not a politician, I just hang around with them and buy access for my union through shady go-betweens by contributing to obscure political committees that exist for about 3 weeks. He spends almost 5 minutes explaining in minute detail how he had to pay-to-play, but when asked, “was this pay-to-play”, he gives the weakest denial, ever.

Caccamise says the union lost a ton of money through Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme, but:

The Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union Local 3, based in Pittsford, outside Rochester, and with regional offices and membership in Buffalo, also has told members that some pension money invested through a “feeder fund” into Madoff Securities was lost. The fund had a value of $31 million at the end of 2006, the latest data available.

The union was not among the accounts listed in the court filing.

Caccamise makes it sound as if his union’s intervention made Cuomo pay attention not only to his union, but to Buffalo specifically. It almost sounds as if he’s taking credit for the Buffalo Billion or Canalside or the Medical Campus.

“If I can get my people to work so they don’t lose their pensions, they don’t lose their houses, they don’t lose their cars, they don’t lose everything and be able to take care of their family; that’s what it was all about.”

So, the plan, as explained by Caccamise, was to appeal to Governor Andrew Cuomo for more state investment in construction which meant the possibility of work for BAC#3.

The Buffalo Billion was conceived in 2012; Gene Caccamise didn’t put Buffalo on Cuomo’s radar in 2013. LIkewise, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus updated its master plan in 2010 – Caccamise wasn’t the impetus behind its continuted expansion or his members getting work, the work was already in the pipeline. If Caccamise is arguing that his payment to Pigeon (above and beyond the $30,000 to the Governor directly) brought about the work that saved the union, perhaps some specifics would be in order? Which projects? In what way did his payment(s) bring about more work that wasn’t already there?

Federal investigators talked to Caccamise about this contribution to Pigeon’s AwfulPAC, and there’s no evidence at this point of any criminality.

But there is, however, ample evidence of how fundamentally broken New York State politics and government are if a bricklayer’s union has to pay a nominal Democratic gadfly’s PAC $25,000 in order to get the Governor’s ear.

Cuomo’s betrayal, indeed.

 

The Preetsmas Mysteries

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New York State Election Law §14-120 forbids people from making any payment – directly or indirectly – to any candidate or committee in any name other than their own. Furthermore, no candidate or committee is allowed to knowingly accept a payment in the name of any person other than the one who is actually contributing. Election Law §14-126 establishes that a deliberate attempt to evade contribution maximums is a crime.

In mid-August 2013, someone bought three money orders in the name of Matt Connors, and gave them to the WNY Progressive Caucus (“AwfulPAC”). Connors insists that he is an innocent victim, and there is no evidence to the contrary. But sources close to the investigation repeat that someone intentionally wrote Connors’ name on the money orders, and the address shown on them is a building that is allegedly owned by one of Nick Sinatra’s companies.

What we don’t know is whether Connors actually lived at the address someone wrote on the money orders, or if he lived where he was registered to vote. The lingering question is why would someone just pick Connors’ name out of the clear blue sky? Why were these money orders bought? Who bought them? Why were they delivered to AwfulPAC? Who solicited those contributions? Why were they made?

They money orders were allegedly hidden in a $4,000 contribution that AwfulPAC reported from Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats. Remember: AwfulPAC reported that $4,000 as one lump sum, but for some reason Max’s group didn’t. AwfulPAC also says that it received money long before Max’s group says it contributed it. It’s much easier to disguise a conduit contribution via money order than a check. But why didn’t they just give cash? The maximum amount of a postal money order is $1,000, and if you buy $3,000 or more in one transaction, you have to show ID.

The three money orders ($1,000, $1,000 and $500) were delivered to someone who deposited them – presumably M&T Bank has the surveillance tapes to show who that was; someone knows something.  But AwfulPAC made the decision that they wouldn’t disclose “Matt Connors” – or the actual purchaser of the money orders – as the contributor, but instead just lump it in with the other check being deposited that same day – from Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats. That was a deliberate decision to hide that money, and against the law.

The Buffalo News reports that Pigeon’s contributions even to Governor Cuomo are now under scrutiny, and Bob McCarthy writes that the authorities are questioning Pigeon’s financial ability to make the contributions he claims, given his tax liabilities. Was Pigeon a conduit for others’ money?

New interest is focused on at least two significant contributions or loans that Pigeon made in late 2013 – including donations of almost $100,000 to the caucus and $54,000 to Cuomo, especially a $50,000 contribution in connection with the governor’s 2012 birthday bash at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Investigators have not suggested any wrongdoing on the part of the governor.

While Pigeon insisted in February that he maintained the financial ability to give almost $100,000 to a fund such as the WNY Progressive Caucus, questions still surround his donations. The fund was said not to concentrate on assisting major candidates for statewide offices, but for county legislator and Erie County sheriff.

“That’s a lot of money for a sheriff race nobody cared about,” said another source familiar with the investigation.

In February, Pigeon revealed his tax returns to The Buffalo News to indicate a more than healthy income in the mid-six figures. But the contention that he was financially capable of such hefty contributions occurred 11 months after he negotiated a tax repayment plan with the Internal Revenue Service as he was incurring even more tax problems with the federal government.

Investigators are now curious about his ability to finance such significant contributions to Cuomo and the caucus, according to several sources.

The source familiar with the investigation said Pigeon’s connection to the Cuomo campaign also interests investigators.

As for Pigeon’s alleged “loans”, Election Law §14-102(1) states that any “statement reporting a loan shall have attached to it a copy of the evidence of indebtedness.” Was that filed with the State Board of Elections?  Has AwfulPAC paid the loan back? Election Law §14-116(6)(a) states that a

…loan made to a candidate or political committee, other than a constituted committee, by any person, firm, association or corporation other than in the regular course of the lender’s business shall be deemed, to the extent not repaid by the date of the primary, general or special election, as the case may be, a contribution by such person, firm, association or corporation.

So, it’s been two years and nothing has been paid back, so these are likely to be treated as contributions. Assuming the legality and applicability of AwfulPAC’s clumsy attempt between September 2013 – February 2014 to retroactively transform itself from a PAC into a multicandidate authorized expenditure committee, Pigeon’s contributions must be apportioned among the various candidates the committee supported, and the pro rata amount of his total contribution must be calculated as to each of the candidates.  He would clearly go way over the contribution limits himself for each of the candidates supported. (See Election Law §14-114(4).

Pursuant to that section, any authorized committee supporting more than one candidate is supposed to have a “formula based upon reasonable standards” to determine how to allocate a contribution to it among the various candidates that it supports.  The reason is to (supposedly) prevent a contributor (who has already maxed out to a given candidate, individually) to simply give more money to a multi-candidate committee, which in, in turn, gives money to the same candidate. That section only applies to party committees and to authorized political committees – it says nothing about “unauthorized” committees.  Which, of course, makes sense, since the unauthorized “independent expenditure” committee is not making “contributions” and is not limited for any amount.

Was AwfulPAC an independent expenditure committee, or an authorized committee? If the latter, this would have personal consequences for Pigeon, as well as Senator Tim Kennedy’s committee. Pigeon’s “loans” total $90,000, plus $25,000 from his “Landen Associates”, and Kennedy contributed $85,000. These were for legislative races, and those contribution limits are low indeed.

A few additional things we’re hearing:

1. People can’t seem to agree what affect the impending statute of limitations on the alleged misdemeanors is having on state investigators. As far as AwfulPAC is concerned, its period of highest activity came in late August and early September 2013. Some sources are telling me that this looming deadline will hasten the filing of all relevant charges, while others are telling me that the authorities may be willing to let the statute lapse for the minor charges while they chase down the bigger fish. Time, I suppose, will tell.

2. There’s a lot of chatter about Niagara County. So far, only the Sam Fruscione campaign and AwfulPAC’s involvement in it has been mentioned, but people are steering me in the direction of the 2012 effort by Steve Pigeon, Gary Parenti (both of “PAPI Consulting“), and members and leadership of Laborer’s Local 91 to take over the Niagara County Democratic Committee. At that time, the county board of elections suddenly received a spate of angry phone calls from people saying that petitions for election to the county committee were being circulated with their names on them, and they never knew a thing about it. The calls were coming mainly from members of Local 91, and a few days later people suddenly called back to say, in effect, “never mind.” A scan of contemporaneous media accounts provides the outline of that failed effort.

3. The names of Steve Pigeon and several of his hangers-on keep re-appearing in documents and sites dealing with the alleged NXIVM “cult” in Albany. For instance,

In this civil complaint alleging conspiracy, civil rights violations, and other torts:

Defendant [John] Bartolomei was retained by the Bronfman sisters in order to encourage various governmental entities to bring criminal charges against, inter alia, the Plaintiff, Frank Parlato, Jr., Yuri Plyam, and Rick Ross. In conjunction with his work for the Bronfman sisters, Bartolomei, upon information and belief, oversaw the activities of, inter alia, Steve Pigeon and Byron Georgjou — and worked with Defendant Savino on a variety of NXTVM/ESP-related matters…

…NXIVM/ESP and some of the other Defendants have employed, directly and indirectly, a variety of political consultants and lobbyists in conjunction with their efforts to cause harm to the Plaintiff and other third parties. Also based upon information and belief, these political consultants and lobbyists have included, but are not necessarily limited to, the following: John P. Bartolomei/Bartolomei & Associates PC; Steven M. Boggess/Featherstonehaugh, Wiley & Clyne LLP; Alphonse D’Amato, Chris D’Amato and Joel Giambra/Park Strategies; Byron Georgiou/Georgiou Enterprises; Richard Mays/Maybeck, Inc.; Robert McLarty and Paul Neville/The Markham Group; Steve Pigeon/Underberg & Kessler LLP; and Roger J. Stone/STONEzone.com.

NXIVM/ESP and/or other Defendants hired Frank Parlato, Jr. (“Parlato”) to develop a “negative publicity campaign” in order to malign the Plaintiffs reputation in the Albany, NY area (This “negative publicity campaign” included billboard advertisements – and a “story” concerning the Plaintiff that was to be distributed to all of the homes in the Albany, NY area ).

NXIVM allegedly files harassing lawsuits against critics. A cultwatching website has this long compendium of information available about Mr. Pigeon’s litigious and deep-pocketed clients. In connection with the 2009 Pigeon-engineered / “Responsible New York” – Espada senate coup, LittleSis wrote this “Cult behind the Coup?” piece.

If Pigeon is a conduit for campaign contributions, it will be interesting to find out who’s behind the money.

Preetsmas Day. All the kids are waiting, and the cookies & milk are out.

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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