On the Fourth Day of Preetsmas



Mickey Kearns and Aaron Pierce

To what extent might Assemblyman Mickey Kearns be implicated in the Great Preetsmas Massacre of ’15? On Tuesday, I ran through the fact that Kearns had been a recipient of generous campaign contributions from a Seneca businessman named Aaron Pierce.  Pierce and his companies have recently run afoul of the law and been prosecuted, and he was named as having been a prominent donor to Steve Pigeon’s Western New York Progressive Caucus (“AwfulPAC”).

What are Mickey Kearns’ connections to Pierce?

1) The new turf football field at Mulroy Park was renamed Pierce Field “to recognize the extraordinary commitment and leadership of Aaron Pierce and the Pierce Family in making the project a reality.” (Common Council Proceedings of 9/20/11.) 

2) On May 15, 2013, Assemblyman Kearns nominates Pierce for a state award: “honoring the contributions of 142 everyday people who are working to make our District a better place, through volunteering, teaching, coaching and anyone who should be recognized for their contribution to the greater good.”

3) The political consulting firm which the media has recently reported as belonging to Steve Casey and Chris Grant, Herd Solutions, is shown in NYS BOE filings as a vendor to the Kearns campaign, though there is not enough expenditure to account for the volume of television and mailings utilized by that campaign:

Amount Date Report
$15,000 3/20/12 2012 27 day Post-Special
$8,500 3/08/12 2012 27 day Post-Special
$2,000 5/10/12 2012 July Periodic
$1,000 5/10/12 2012 July Periodic

It bears mentioning that Herd Solutions has several listed addresses throughout the New York State Board of Elections filings, and the most recent one is in Asheville, North Carolina. The website for “Herd Marketing Solutions” is down, but cached versions promote SEO management, online reputation management, and other public relations-type services. Herd Solutions shows past addresses that include Chris Grant’s home in Akron, an office rental facility at Delaware & North, and a Williamsville residence where a company called “Empowered Stables, LLC” was just registered in February 2015 to a Stephen L. Grant, likely related to Chris, since donations to Collins from Chris Grant appear from that same address in July 2008 reports, (also here to the GOP Committee).

4) Contributions from what are thought to be Aaron Pierce-controlled companies to Mr. Kearns in the 2012 campaign:

2012 Pierce to Kearns
Contributor Amount Date Report
ABCZ Holdings LLC Gowanda, NY $5000 2/28/12 2012 11 Day Pre-Special
AJ Cigar LLC Gowanda, NY $5000 2/03/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
Hurricane Mgmt Gowanda, NY $5000 2/13/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
James Bros Wholesale Irving, NY $5000 2/28/12 2012 11 day Pre-Special
Jays Candy & Tobacco LLC Gowanda $5000 2/03/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
Med Assign LLC Irving NY $5000 2/13/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
Pierce Munitions Gowanda, NY $5000 2/13/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
Pierce Nat’l Enterprises Irving, NY $5000 2/28/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special
Red Jacket Mgmt LLC $5000 2/28/12 2012 11 day Pre-Special
Seneca Smoke Shop Gowanda, NY $5000 2/03/12 2012 32 day Pre-Special

That’s $50,000 from one likely contributor exploiting the LLC loophole. The Buffalo News reported that Mr. Kearns acknowledged that these contributions exceeded the allowable limit set forth in the law and pledged to return the excessive amounts.  Nine of these corporations received $900 refunds as reflected in the 11 day pre special report. It also bears mentioning that, for some reason, Kearns’ payments to Herd Solutions don’t show up in a search of the state BOE’s expense database – only by examining the specific disclosures that Kearns made. Something is wrong with the system, and it isn’t properly cross-referencing data.

Steve Pigeon, Gene Caccamise & Bricklayers’ Local 3

On another note, yesterday 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. It was July 2014 when I first began floating the theory that the financial shenanigans surrounding AwfulPAC were much more serious than just your typical run-of-the-mill Pigeoning of local races. In August 2013, the West Seneca town board approved up to $30,000 be spent to undertake an environmental review of the Seneca Mall site, but no one would say why. From the West Seneca Bee,


“It seems very cryptic when you read it,” said Hart. “People will wonder what’s going on.”

Meegan said she realized that, but they can’t “spill the beans.”

Hart also told the public that it is the intent of the board to rezone the former Seneca Mall site from industrial to commercial, as per the owner’s request. He said he could not offer much information but did say the proposed development would be a “game-changer” for the town.


Game-changer: football stadium? Casino?

AwfulPAC benefited from a huge cash injection from nominal Democrat and pro-life-oh-wait-pro-choice Tim Kennedy. But at the time, 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 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

We’re meant to believe that a union with only $28,000 on hand is emptying its account to fund the WNYPC? Indeed, a scan of this union local’s intake and outflow shows modest amounts – a few thousand coming in, a few hundred going out. It reports $5,000 to current Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in its 11-day pre-General. It gave Sean Ryan $500 bucks. Its July 2013 report shows a little over $1,000 to Tim Kennedybut at no time did the BAC Local 3 report $25,000 to the “WNY Progressive Caucus”, and such an outflow appears on no disclosure report whatsoever.

Could the investigation into where the WNYPC’s money came from – and this apparently falsified contribution from the bricklayer’s union help explain Caccamise’s recent departure? Caccamise remains the “ethics officer” and a member of the board of COMIDA, the Monroe County Industrial Development Agency. Sources say that the Buffalo representative from the Bricklayer’s Local 3 was as surprised as anyone when the contribution to the WNYPC was revealed, and claimed to have no idea why it was made. The theory is that Caccamise was close with developer Scott Congel and with Pigeon, and wanted jobs for the proposed West Seneca development, the renderings for which contained a lot of brick

Kristy “Turncoat” Mazurek

Michael Caputo’s PoliticsNY.net broke the story on its “rumors and innuendo” page that former WNYPC treasurer Kristy Mazurek had been granted immunity from prosecution in the ongoing Preetsmas criminal probe, likely in exchange for her cooperation. 

This is all just packed with schadenfreude. In September 2014, Mazurek tried to threaten Shredd and Ragan to not have me on air, adding that a “team of lawyers” was “monitoring” me. I went on air anyway. Fast-forward 9 months, Mazurek is represented by criminal superlawyer Joel Daniels, and has reportedly turned state’s evidence in connection with the ongoing state & fed criminal probe into the “WNY Progressive Caucus”, for which she was treasurer. In just 9 mos, Mazurek has gone from issuing threats to ratting out Pigeon & associates in exchange for immunity.

This confirms what Geoff Kelly and I thought in last week’s podcast, regarding why it was that Mazurek’s home hadn’t been raided. 

Senecas fire Pigeon

Two Tweets Tuesday afternoon from Liz Benjamin


The Seneca Nation is caught up in a criminal investigation thanks to the guys it hired as lobbyists. Investigators now have whatever records they recovered in last week’s raids on top of subpoenaed bank records likely being analyzed by forensic accountants, and the WNYPC’s own treasurer singing like a canary.

On top of all of this, rumors are swirling about who the real targets are. Clearly, Mazurek was a small fish worth flipping to get to the people who were really in charge. There are rumors that one prominent Republican developer contributed money to the WNYPC by illegally using or reimbursing a conduit, possibly involving a big-name attorney.

Some have suggested that calling this “Preetsmas” is wrong because his office is perhaps not necessarily involved in these investigations. We’re not 100% sure that it’s not, and certainly the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY has, at least, provided the proper environment for this probe to take place.  Bharara’s office took possession of control of the entire Moreland Commission records, which included complaints made against the WNYPC. This is Preetsmas, and on the 4th Day of Preetsmas, my true love gave to me, four rats a-ratting.

No way this is the end of this story. This is only the beginning.

Preetsmas: Tentacles Spreading

pigeonThe Buffalo News reports that one of the top donors to Steve Pigeon’s and Kristy Mazurek’s “WNY Progressive Caucus” has been in big trouble lately.

Aaron J. Pierce, a Seneca owner of an online cigarette business and a munitions factory,

• In August 2013, a Pierce company called AJ’s Candy & Tobacco was charged – with 17 other defendants – with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and contraband cigarette trafficking. Federal prosecutors said AJ’s Candy was one of several Native American tobacco companies from Western New York that saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by illegally buying and reselling “unstamped” cigarettes.

AJ’s Candy and other companies saved themselves $4.35 a pack by illegally buying cigarettes from a Missouri company that had not paid New York state excise taxes, prosecutors charged.

Court papers show that, last August, AJ’s Candy & Tobacco was sentenced after taking a corporate guilty plea, admitting to felony charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and contraband cigarette trafficking. The company agreed to pay just over $1 million in fines, judgments and restitution. The company was put on probation for two years. Pierce – who signed the plea agreement on the company’s behalf – agreed that the company would not sell any cigarettes except those made by his own companies for two years.

The charges against AJ’s Candy & Tobacco and 17 other defendants followed a lengthy undercover investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. The defendants in the case purchased a total of $17 million in illegally untaxed cigarettes during the undercover probe, said U.S. Attorney Tammy Dickenson, in Kansas City, Mo.

• In April of this year, Pierce and another of his companies – AJ’s Wholesale LLC of Irving – agreed to pay $400,000 to federal prosecutors in Buffalo to settle a non-criminal forfeiture case.

Federal prosecutors filed the forfeiture action against Pierce and AJ’s Wholesale in February, after ATF agents determined that AJ’s unlawfully bought and resold more than 403,000 cartons of untaxed cigarettes between September 2012 and January 2013, Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard D. Kaufman said in court papers.

A court order directing Pierce and AJ’s Wholesale to pay $400,000 to the federal government was signed by District Judge Richard J. Arcara on April 19. Another document, called a “stipulation for settlement and forfeiture,” was signed by Pierce and Pigeon – acting as an attorney for Pierce – on March 24.

AJ’s Wholesale, the company involved in the $400,000 forfeiture action, is the same Pierce company that donated $30,000 to Pigeon’s PAC in September 2013, government documents show.

Pierce is also a big donor to Assemblyman Mickey Kearns – so much so that Kearns had a ballpark named after Pierce.

When this all gets written up and we know all the ins and outs, remember that the question is where the money came from to fund the WNYPC. It was rumored to be Seneca money, and the evidence is mounting that this is true. Pierce’s quoted lawyer – Ed Betz – is a close associate of Pigeon protege Jack O’Donnell, and was hired as counsel for the Erie County Water Authority when O’Donnell was a commissioner.

Also, in case you missed it, Ken Kruly’s blog has a list of the lawyers all the targets of the Preetsmas probe have retained,

  • Steve Pigeon – represented by Dennis Vacco and Paul Cambria
  • Steve Casey – represented by Rod Personius
  • Chris Grant – represented by Thomas Eoannou
  • Tim Kennedy – represented by Terry Connors
  • Kristi Mazurek – represented by Joel Daniels

That reads like a who’s who of local lawyers you hire when you’re accused of really, really serious stuff. Also – Tim Kennedy?!

So far, the only thing missing is how the Albany-based accused cult NXIVM fits into all of this. Because I’m convinced that this investigation’s scope and timeframe is much wider than is being reported.

Merry Preetsmas

Steve-PigeonOn the first day of Preetmas, my true love gave to me: a search warrant for Pigeon and Casey.

Thursday, May 28 at midday, state police and FBI agents executed search warrants at the homes of three prominent political figures: lobbyist Steve Pigeon, former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Representative Chris Collins’s chief of staff, Chris Grant.

All of this raises more questions than answers.

These raids seem to be the culmination of a two-year-long series of inquiries into the activities of Western New York Progressive Caucus, a campaign committee directed by Pigeon that was active in 2013 Erie County races. People in the know believe that the point of prosecutorial entry for all of this—in addition to the likelihood WNYPC bank records betray some skullduggery—has to do with improper PAC coordination with campaigns, and with possible phantom billings to campaigns. For instance, if you’re a politician and you have a huge warchest, you can’t spend that money for any non-political purpose. But what if you contracted with a printing shop to do palmcards or mailers, and money changes hands for work that’s never done? You send me a bill, I’ll pay the bill. The non-printing printer gets a kickback, the cash goes off into the ether, having been essentially laundered.

What other connections are there? Back in 2014, before the state took over the investigation, the county Board of Elections had subpoenaed several businesses that supplied the WNYPC, and some were less forthcoming than others. One in particular—Marketing Technologies—did not respond to a subpoena and the board had to move in Supreme Court to enforce it. At a hearing with Judge Troutman, a representative from Marketing Technologies claimed that he could not obey the subpoena for email records because they had been destroyed, but did provide invoices. In open court, he testified that his point of contact for the WNYPC mailers that his shop produced was Deputy Mayor Steve Casey. This was during a supposed “truce” between City Hall and Democratic HQ. Sources close to the county investigation reveal that David Pfaff’s name kept coming up in connection with mailers and the WNYPC’s BOE filings. Pfaff is now a staffer for Senator Panepinto, and one observer calls the effort to land Pfaff a job—any job—as “frantic”, raising questions about whether that frenzy had to do with placating a potential witness.

Go read this article about the Seneca Mall project, which seems to be at least part of the unifying thread with all of this WNYPC business. Now, why would the Syracuse-based developer of that West Seneca project, Scott Congel, need to engage the assistance and services of all of these politically connected people simply to build some sort of lifestyle center/shopping mall on a piece of derelict West Seneca property? Congel hired Steve Casey to run the project, Pigeon is a consultant, Golisano’s name was brought up when the site was suggested as a Bills stadium site—it doesn’t make any sense. One longtime political observer posits this explanation: Congel retaining Seneca Nation lobbyist Pigeon, and putting Casey on the payroll; getting Tim Kennedy re-elected as he battled Betty Jean Grant—why would that be necessary?

Moving the Buffalo Creek Casino to the I-90 mainline corridor.

In order to move the Buffalo Creek Casino to a more prominent spot along in West Seneca, you would need approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and you would ultimately need sign-off from the Mayor of Buffalo and the Governor of the State of New York. That’s where Casey and Pigeon come in; both have influence where it counts. If you wanted to move the casino, you need buy-in, obviously, from the Senecas themselves. Pigeon now lobbies for the Seneca Nation, and don’t forget that the Senecas invested heavily in Kennedy’s own re-election campaign. From 2011—2013, Tim Kennedy’s campaign has been the seventh largest recipient of Seneca Nation money: ($73,850), and the proposed Congel project is what was until very recently Kennedy’s district. Kennedy wrote a letter opposing the idea of a non-Indian Finger Lakes casino. Although the West Seneca site is no longer in Kennedy’s district, he does maintain a rather active political profile in that town, and is close to the supervisor, Sheila Meegan. Meegan is the daughter of Christopher Walsh, a former chair of the West Seneca Democratic Committee, and considered to be a political father figure to Steve Pigeon.

The financial bonanza of a project of this scope and size would be huge for everyone involved. This doesn’t, however, explain why Chris Grant’s house was also searched.

This should be somewhat contextualized, so here’s just a small taste of the history at play.

In 2008, Steve Pigeon set up a PAC as part of an effort to oust political foe Sam Hoyt from the state Assembly. The PAC spent tons of money mailing horrible things about Hoyt to voters—the material was so inflammatory that it ultimately backfired, causing voters to sympathize with Hoyt rather than revile him.

In 2009, Pigeon and his benefactor/client Tom Golisano set up the hilariously misnamed “Responsible New York”, which brought about a coup in the State Senate and elevated convicted criminals Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserratte’s to its leadership. In 2010, a similar coup was executed in the Erie County Legislature, handing a majority Democratic body over to Republican then-County Executive Chris Collins on a silver platter. It was that coup that helped propel Tim Kennedy to the state Senate.

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. For 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 execute the aforementioned 2010 coup.

WNYPC’s disclosures were not complete.  WNYPC’s financial recordkeeping was so sloppy that it seemed to be hiding potential illegality. The bricklayer’s union barely had the $25,000 the WNYPC reported to have received from them, and did not itself report any such donation. The WNYPC reported that State Senator Tim Kennedy had donated $40,000 from a long-defunct campaign account. The head of that bricklayer’s union retired just a few months ago For a time, it showed the PAC to be in the red—a big no-no. Disclosures came in late, 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.

In the Erie County Sheriff’s race, the WNYPC candidate 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. There was an unaccounted-for $20,000 that was paid to “Buying Time, LLC” for Dick Dobson ads, which was later claimed to have been a payment reportedly made by AJ Wholesalers directly to Buying Time on the WNYPC’s behalf.  

Buying Time is associated with Governor Andrew Cuomo. So associated, in fact, that the New York Times reported that it was sniffing around Buying Time that prompted Cuomo’s office to begin interfering with the work of the shortly-thereafter-disbanded Moreland Commission on Public Corruption

Aside from Barbara Miller-Williams, none of Pigeon’s and Mazurek’s legislative candidates won in September 2013, 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 from Fisher’s neighbors that was the purported source of the story 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. After the Erie 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. Police interviewed several people at the county legislature, as well as at least a couple of the headquarters-backed 2013 Democratic candidates for county legislature. Subpoenas. Search warrants. Forensic accountants. If even a small percentage of the rumors you’ve likely heard are true, the banking records should tell all.

Make no mistake: The news of these search warrants being executed measures a 10.0 on the political Richter scale. It also raises more questions than answers:

1. How far back does this go? Could it go as far back as the 2010 Pigeon-engineered Chris Collins coup of the county legislature? The 2008 effort against Hoyt?

2. How far out does this go? Does it implicate the bricklayer’s union? Tim Kennedy? This property abuts Conservative Party chairman Ralph Lorigo’s—could he be targeted? Was it Seneca money that Pigeon marshaled to fund the PAC? There’s a reason the Buffalo News’ article about this project was penned by Bob McCarthy and not someone on the business or development beat. Could this reach the Governor? The other two men in that room are already under arrest.

3. Chris Grant? Maybe has to do with the 2010 coup? The Buffalo News reports that Grant and Steve Casey operated a printing shop together, but my sources tell me Grant and Steve Casey started a consultancy business that had more to do with voter data gathering and analysis. It had also been rumored that Grant worked on the mayor’s campaign in 2013, which would have put him in constant contact with Casey. Indeed, Collins and Grant attended a Brown fundraiser in 2009. Did you catch Collins’ dismissal of Pigeon in the Buffalo News?

“Anyone in Western New York knows that Steve Pigeon has never been a financial supporter of my congressional campaigns,” the congressman said. “Steve is a political operative who has been active in Western New York politics for decades. I was certainly aware there has been an investigation of him ongoing for some time.”

I mean, Pigeon only helped engineer the coup that handed you the county legislature in 2010, but let’s pretend you never heard of the guy. Also: note the limitation to “congressional campaigns” and the glaring omission of state office campaigns.

4. Kristy Mazurek, who acted as the WNYPC’s treasurer: Was her home searched? If so, why wasn’t it reported? If not, why not? She’s reportedly retained Joel Daniels to represent her, and one doesn’t do that lightly. Certainly if there are questions about financial improprieties and improper collusion, she would be a prime target. Is she cooperating with law enforcement? Has she already turned everything over?

5. Who else is implicated, directly or indirectly? NYSUT’s Mike Deely? Senator Marc Panepinto? Mayor Byron Brown? Amherst Councilman Mark Manna? What other candidates with ties to Pigeon and the WNYPC are being targeted? What about Tom Golisano and Pyramid’s Scott Congel? When BAK USA took Golisano’s money, and the owners were photographed with Pigeon and Mazurek, I had flashbacks to this Soprano’s storyline, it seemed that seedy to me.

6. Just last weekend, the Buffalo News’ Bob McCarthy dutifully transcribed Steve Pigeon’s purported rationale for leaving his job with a local law firm, noting that he is now the chief lobbyist for the Seneca Nation of Indians. Remember the West Seneca parcel Steve Casey now manages for Scott Congel was once floated as a site for a new Bills stadium before renderings went out showing off an entire mixed-use community? For his part, Congel was in talks with Pigeon’s clients, the Senecas, about bringing a casino to one of his Rochester properties in mid-2013, during the WNYPC’s heyday.

No one’s been arrested, but three simultaneous raids of the homes of prominent political actors underscores the seriousness and wide scope of this investigation. For the first time, motivated, disinterested, and aggressive action is being taken on serious allegations surrounding campaign finance in western New York. The limited Erie County BOE investigation has morphed into something that calls for the intervention of state and federal law enforcement, and one has to imagine prosecutorial ducks are already in a row long before this sort of action is taken.

Could this be the beginning of a deep clean of Erie County politics? Hope and change never seemed so close.