Political Shorts

1. SAFE ACT: Not Dead

Earlier this week, the Federal Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit upheld most of New York’s and Connecticut’s firearms statutes passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Anti-gun control groups brought suit challenging them, and they now plan to appeal this partial defeat to the Supreme Court.

One might ask, what part of “shall not be infringed” does the 2nd Circuit not understand?

The court found that banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines comports with the “important — indeed, compelling — state interest in controlling crime.” It continued,

“When used, these weapons tend to result in more numerous wounds, more serious wounds, and more victims. These weapons are disproportionately used in crime, and particularly in criminal mass shootings,” according to the ruling written by Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes. “They are also disproportionately used to kill law enforcement officers.”

The three-judge panel noted that the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting in December 2012 occurred when 154 rounds were fired in less than five minutes, killing 20 first-graders and six educators and renewing a nationwide discussion on the role of guns in America and how to diminish the threat of large-scale shootings.

The court upheld a lower court’s ruling striking down the 7-round limit in 10-round magazines. The SAFE Act contains a severability clause, so if any portion of it is stricken down by a court, the remainder survives and remains in effect. The list of SAFE Act provisions is broken down here. Its purpose is to avoid and prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook elementary where a lone terrorist shot and killed twenty little kids within seconds. It does this by limiting the types of weapons that can be bought and possessed, requires registration of some, mandates that mental health professionals report to authorities if they believe a patient might be planning to commit a violent crime, and requires background checks for all firearms and ammunition purchases. From the Buffalo News,

The court rejected the arguments by the plaintiffs – which included the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, the Sportsmen’s Association for Firearms Education and other groups, businesses and individual gun owners – that the law “will primarily disarm law-abiding citizens and will thus impair the very public safety objectives they were designed to achieve.’’ The court said there is a “dearth of evidence that law-abiding citizens typically use these weapons for self-defense” and that the state tailored the two key components of the law “to address these particular hazard weapons” that it said has a higher chance when used to inflict more numerous and serious wounds to more people than other weapons.

The court said there are still “numerous alternatives” for people to purchase weapons with magazines capable of holding up to 10 rounds and to use them for self-defense. “The burden imposed by the challenged legislation is real, but it is not severe,” the court ruled.

While the Supreme Court in DC v. Heller affirmed an individual right to bear arms, (thus jettisoning the “well-regulated militia” language in the 2nd Amendment), the decision clarified that, like other rights, the right to bear arms is by no means absolute.

Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms

The right to bear arms is further limited to weapons, “in common use at the time”. Heller stands for the principle that people can own weapons for personal protection in the home, and since handguns are in “common use”, they cannot be banned altogether. On the other hand, military grade weaponry such as machine guns, tanks, RPGs, etc., can be, should be, and are banned from personal possession and use. The 2nd Amendment isn’t an absolute and unlimited right, just like the right to free speech doesn’t protect libel and the right to free exercise of religion doesn’t protect Rastafarian pot use.

2. All Quiet on the Preetsmas Front?

The investigation into campaign finance illegality that led to the May 28th raids of three prominent political operatives is still very much alive, despite the expiration of the statute of limitations for any misdemeanors. Rumor has it that state and federal investigators are excitedly trying to wrest a Pigeon associate from being represented by a private lawyer, and to convince him instead to take on a public defender and turn state’s evidence against his (former?) associates. This person knows where a lot – if not all – of the figurative bodies are buried, so if this succeeds, it would be huge. Law enforcement has to prove that these guys didn’t simply accidentally forget to make necessary election disclosures in the proper way, but that they knew exactly what they were doing, and that it was part of a continuing, chronic scheme to trick and defraud opponents and the public at large. It’s not over yet.

3. Vice President Biden

The Vice President announced that he would not be running for President in 2016, and gave a heartfelt barn-burner of a speech that left a lot of Democrats wishing that he actually was. Biden is a centrist Democrat who has fought for the beleagured middle class his entire career. Hillary Clinton and the Freedom Caucus and the entire GOP Presidential slate take note:

I believe that we have to end the divisive partisan politics that is ripping this country apart. And I think we can. It’s mean spirited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long. I don’t believe, like some do, that it’s naive to talk to Republicans. I don’t think we should look at Republicans as our enemies. They are our opposition. They’re not our enemies. And for the sake of the country, we have to work together.

Hillary Clinton is breathing easy, not only because Biden is out, but the Benghazi witch hunt is unraveling hour by hour in advance of her second round of testimony about a tragedy – not a scandal.

4. Canada goes Trudeau

Stephen Harper’s 9 year-long government is over, he will stay as an MP but resign as head of the Conservative Party he helped to re-formulate. As so often happens in left/right North American politics, the grueling 11-week Canadian general election pitted Harper’s fear against the hopeful vision of Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau. With a clear majority, Trudeau can form a majority government and actually implement the policies for which he advocated. The parliamentary system may not be perfect, but it’s certainly fairer and more efficient in many ways than ours.

5. Wikileaks

Let’s say you believe it’s wrong for the NSA to have the ability to snoop on people’s emails and phone calls and text messages, etc. We can agree that warrantless government searches of the substance of people’s private communications is illegal. So, in what way is it newsworthy or reasonable or fair for Wikileaks to publish the private emails from CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL account? No one has found or identified any classified or secret information there – it’s all private stuff, including his application for a security clearance that contains intimate details of his personal life. Wikileaks obtained the information from hackers – criminals – and is simply publishing it all for everyone to see. Wikileaks defenders, defend this. You can’t. It’s a stunt designed to keep these people relevant.

If you want to understand what Wikileaks is, consider this, from John Schindler: Wikileaks is a front for Russian Intelligence. There exists no other reasonable explanation at this point. One need only compare Wikileaks’ published secrets of the Russian Federation vs. the secrets of the United States it has revealed.

An important gap has been filled this week by Julian Assange, who admitted that Snowden going to Moscow was his idea. Ed wanted to head to Latin America, Julian asserted, especially Ecuador, whose London embassy Assange has been hiding out in for years on the lam from rape changes in Sweden. As Assange explained, “He preferred Latin America, but my advice was that he should take asylum in Russia despite the negative PR consequences, because my assessment is that he had a significant risk he could be kidnapped from Latin America on CIA orders. Kidnapped or possibly killed.”

Only in Russia would Ed be safe, Julian counseled, because there he would be protected by Vladimir Putin and his secret services, notably the FSB. One might think that seeking the shelter of the FSB — one of the world’s nastiest secret police forces that spies on millions without warrant and murders opponents freely — might be an odd choice for a “privacy organization.” But Wikileaks is no ordinary NGO.

Now, the private phone numbers and social security numbers of innocent private civilians are being revealed by this phony, hostile “privacy” organization. Its justification for publishing the substance of all of Brennan’s AOL emails is weak, if it exists at all.

Just because you enter public life doesn’t mean that it’s ok for a hostile government’s PR arm to publicize your personal emails. Wikileaks has proven Schindler’s thesis beyond reasonable doubt.

Preetsmas in September


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.

How The Preetsmas Gang is Spending its Summer Vacation


Note: The Attorney for the Brown Campaign spoke with me after this piece was published, and that update can be found here

We’re still waiting for the inevitable Preetsmas fallout. The statute of limitations for all of the alleged misdemeanors expires in the next month, so everyone expects something to happen shortly.

Although somewhat hobbled by a federal and state investigation into alleged campaign finance fraud and illegality, Steve Pigeon’s crew is still active in the Michele Brown for Family Court race. The endorsed Democratic candidate is Kelly Brinkworth.

The Buffalo News and Geoff Kelly in the Public have recounted the political oddballs helping Brown out, and the curious inflow and outflow of money regarding that campaign. Most notable was the $10,000 to Steve Casey’s LSA Strategies – a business carefully set up using a proxy Brooklyn address, perhaps to thwart or slow scrutiny into its ownership. It remains an open question whether this is the rumored company that Casey co-owns with Chris Collins’ Congressional Chief of Staff, Chris Grant.

Local political veteran Ken Kruly runs an excellent blog, and he looked into the Brown campaign’s campaign disclosures, noting this:

  • As of July 15th, Ms. Brown had $125,205 in her campaign account, more than the amount that Freedman ($64,791) and Brinkworth ($38,048) had combined.
  • Brown has raised nothing from individuals, corporations, other candidates, etc.
  • Brown loaned herself a total of $60,000 in three different loans.
  • Brown has also received a $100,000 loan from her husband, Eugene Cunningham.
  • The Brown campaign paid $10,000 to LSA Strategies LLC, the consulting firm operated by Steve Casey.  (Just wondering, is Chris Grant a partner in that firm?)
  • The Brown campaign paid $4,000 to political consultant Maurice Garner.
  • Grassroots of Buffalo was paid $750.
  • The Brown campaign paid $2,000 for petition circulation to Louis Turchiarelli, who has previously petitioned for at least one Pigeon-supported candidate in Niagara Falls, an effort that stirred some controversy.
  • The Brown campaign paid $5,568 to the committee of David Hartzell, Clarence Town Supervisor, for petition work.  Why is the campaign of the Republican town supervisor in the business or circulating petitions for other candidates?  Looking at the dollar amounts that were paid to “consultants” to the Hartzell committee, it looks like they turned a nice profit.  There are contribution limits that apply to various offices and it may be that $5,568 exceeds the legal limit that the Brown for Family Court committee may give to Hartzell’s committee.
  • The Brown campaign gave $1,500 to the committee supporting Christine Bove, a candidate for West Seneca supervisor in the upcoming Democratic primary.  Bove allies also circulated Brown petitions.  This one has an interesting twist.  Steve Casey is working on the redevelopment of the former Seneca Mall site in West Seneca and it would certainly be nice to have some connection to the town supervisor.  But the incumbent supervisor is Sheila Meegan, the daughter of Chris Walsh, and Walsh is Steve Pigeon’s mentor.  So the question is, why would Casey be working with an opponent of the Meegan-Walsh-Pigeon alliance?
  • Casey and Kristy Mazurek, of Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus fame, carried petitions for Brown.
  • Pigeon ally Joe Makowski, who resigned his State Supreme Court seat in 2009 , is assisting in the management of the campaign, operating out of his law office.

The “payments” made by the Michele Brown campaign are indeed wrong on a number of levels:

1. You can’t “hire” a political committee to do work for you, since the very nature of a political committee under the IRS code exception is to keep the money going in and out  “tax free”. As soon as a political committee gets into the business of making money by being paid for circulating someone’s petitions, they have become a profit-making entity subject to state and federal taxation.  What Clarence Supervisor Hartzell is doing is “earning” money payable to his political committee without paying taxes on it. This is pretty basic, and not an obscure rule, so the Michelle Brown campaign is participating in a tax avoidance scheme. Since she has now stated that she paid the money for petitioning services, will she be sending the Hartzell political committee (and the Christina Bove committee in West Seneca) an IRS 1099 form, as a vendor? And will his committee start filing tax returns and pay income taxes on the money received? If not, that’s illegal.

2. The legal limit for “contributions” to the Hartzell campaign is about $1,000 for the primary race against Town Councilman Pat Casilio, and $1,000 if Hartzell makes it to November.  Brown’s campaign “contributed” – and he “accepted a contribution” – of over $6,000.  Seems like a pretty big faux pas on the part of such a business savvy town supervisor. The limits in West Seneca for the Bove “contributions” may be higher.

3. The Brown campaign has another problem. If she has listed these payments, under the sworn signature of her treasurer, as “contributions” made to two candidates’ political committees, judicial ethics rules prohibit such “contributions” generally, but makes an exception for the attendance at political parties as a part of “campaigning”.  The committee for a judicial candidate may purchase up to 2 tickets (@ $250/each) for attendance at such political events. Paying another political committee for petition labor doesn’t count, and any such contribution is illegal.

So, we have the same old crew running the same old racket, with Pigeon as boss and Casey as underboss. As always, the promise of money and patronage help them marshal a crew of soldiers, (who are, at best, ignorant), to break laws and ethical rules in order to funnel campaign cash into friends’ vendor businesses and buy an elected office. In this case, it’s comparatively small potatoes, since the Family Court judgeship doesn’t control a significant number of jobs. This amounts to an attempt to stay relevant even when under investigation.

But as set forth above, they seem to have an almost innate inability or unwillingness to follow the law and rules, prefering instead behavior so brazen, one could coin a new phrase, “political racketeering”. They’re taking a big risk, because there is an Attorney General and US Attorney who are aggressively pursuing violations of laws that had previously been subject to lackadaisical enforcement.

Unfortunately for western New York, our Erie County District Attorney is completely absent when it comes to prosecuting blatant, repeated violations of election law.

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

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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.

The Preetsmas Mysteries



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


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.

On the Eleventh Day of Preetsmas


Earlier this week, I FOILed the CF-02 and CF-03 filings for Kristy Mazurek’s, Frank Max’s, and Steve Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus or “AwfulPAC”. The CF-02 declares the type of committee being formed, declares who the treasurer will be, and where the money will be deposited. The CF-03 is a separate document filed by certain committees to inform the Board of Elections which candidates a committee will be supporting or opposing.

On August 1st, Kristy Mazurek executed the CF-02 to create the AwfulPAC. The NYS Board of Elections received this paperwork on August 22, 2014.

AwfulPAC August 2014 Filing

This document was all the PAC needed to get up and running.

As you know from previous days of Preetsmas, a PAC doesn’t really exist under New York State law – but a committee that files only this CF-02 document only has the right to raise money and donate it to political campaign committees. It is not allowed to undertake its own expenditures on behalf of campaigns (or to oppose them) unless it declares its intent to do so on a CF-03 form.

So it was that AwfulPAC raised almost $300,000 and allegedly spent all but $26,000 of it within the span of about a month. It did not, however, simply raise money and then donate it to campaign committees. Instead, it spent its fortune on behalf of candidates or to oppose candidates – hundreds of thousands of dollars on political mailers and TV ads.

Shortly after the media got wind of this new PAC, and it was spooked into revealing its existence, Mazurek tried again:

WNY Progressive Caucus: Amended Filing

The documents in the PDF are out of order, and you have to scroll to the end. There, you’ll find that Towards the end of the PDF, you can see that in early September, Mazurek filed an amended CF-02 with the state board due to “wrong type of committee selected”. Instead of “PAC”, she changed it to “9 – other” for a “multi-candidate committee”.

The cover letter blamed the “complex outline” and lousy advice from the telephone “help desk”.

However, on September 11, 2013, the New York State Board of Elections returned this amended filing to Mazurek, noting an omission on its CF-02 and the complete absence of the required CF-03. Mazurek had filed as a multi-candidate committee without listing the candidates. She then went on to do so – but not until February 2014. 

It was witnessed by David Pfaff. (Pfaff mentioned here, here, and here)

Isn’t it convenient, this nunc pro tunc retroactive legality? If I rob a bank but return the money before I’m caught, all is forgiven, right? 

The AwfulPAC’s shiny new CF-03 – filed five full months after its period of activity – listed its intent as to various candidates as follows: 

County Sheriff (Primary & General)

Support: Dick Dobson

Oppose: Bert Dunn

County Legislature (Primary only)

Support: Barbara Miller-Williams, Rick Zydel, Wes Moore, Joyce Nixon,

Oppose: Wynnie Fisher, Lynn Dearmyer, Pat Burke, Betty Jean Grant, Tim Hogues

Town of Amherst (General only)

Support: Mark Manna

Not included in this compendium are two items:

1. Why would you support Dick Dobson in the general election and oppose only Bert Dunn? Why are you not also opposing Tim Howard? For a Democratic or “Progressive” PAC, wouldn’t/shouldn’t Howard be the primary target?

2. As predicted on day ten, note the absence of Niagara Falls Council candidate Sam Fruscione from this list. AwfulPAC admitted to Channel 2 that it produced the mailer for Fruscione, but he’s not listed as a candidate on its CF-03.

NB: On the Tenth Day of Preetsmas, I originally wrote that AwfulPAC hadn’t independently declared the expenses it made on Manna’s behalf. I was wrong; it had. I corrected it, and credit Ken Kruly for the catch. I should also note that Kruly also reported on Chris Grant’s federal disclosures for 2014 and 2015 are missing:

The United States House of Representatives Committee of Ethics requires House staff members who make approximately $120,000 or more per year (actually $120,749 in 2014) to file a Financial Disclosure statement by May 15 each year.

We’ll keep an eye out at Legistorm.

Channel 2’s Steve Brown is the only TV reporter chasing this story, and he had a very interesting piece Thursday night. He tried to talk to the owner of AwfulPAC vendor “Marketing Technologies”,

But owner Don Papaj had little to say when 2 On-Your-Side approached to get more information about the work WNY Progressive Caucus had done with them.

“I am very aware of the investigation,” said Papaj, “I have been physically asked not to talk.”

Asking potential witnesses not to speak publicly is a fairly standard request by FBI agents, and the agency is at work on this investigation.

Brown also contacted developer Nick Sinatra, who responded through a spokesman:

Brown adds,

So, it seems that Sinatra knows something about the investigation.

How many more days of Preetsmas are there, and what’s going on in Niagara Falls?

On the Tenth Day of Preetsmas


What is the true meaning of Preetsmas?

The Story of Preetsmas has many purposes and goals, and among them is to establish that the campaign finance irregularities and accusations surrounding Steve Pigeon and his coterie are not novel nor rare, but chronic and longstanding. Let’s call it “Pigeoning”.

Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing \ˈpi-jən-iŋ\: (n) (1) A periodic use of New York’s byzantine election law to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee; (2) The action of accumulating and using money, power, and influence.

But really, the sabotage bit has been a secondary goal, if it’s been one at all. The singular unifying thread has been to enable Pigeon and his hangers-on to gain money, influence, and political power. This is accomplished by, among other things, exploiting the squishy edges of a state election law that’s not written for ease or transparency.

It’s accomplished through doling out patronage and buying people’s loyalty. It’s accomplished through a magnetic attraction to big money, and by our typically New Yorkish corrupt-but-legal minor fusion party horse-trading. Through his machinations, Pigeon has, at times, controlled the Independence fusion line and influenced the Conservative fusion line. We can probably read some volume of quids pro quo within the word “machinations” in the preceding sentence.

Even now, literally not one District Attorney in Western New York has bothered to investigate or prosecute any alleged illegalities, and even enforcement by the Board of Elections has been lukewarm, at best. How convenient it must be, then, for a PAC to simply file a piece of paper and retroactively alter its very nature and being into an unauthorized or authorized committee.

The Pigeoning

Back in 2004, Joe Golombek challenged Sam Hoyt for the Democratic nod for Assembly, and found the backing of a committee called “Renew NYS“, the address for which is the home of Pat Ruffino. (There exists a similarly named, earlier PAC called “Renew New York“.  Inactive now, its address is listed as 101 Reo Avenue in Cheektowaga, which we know from the Seventh and Ninth Days of Preetsmas, is the home of Pigeon bookkeeper Sandi Schmidt.) Renew NYS was started and funded by Pigeon and Joel Giambra.

In a complaint to the state Board of Elections, Hoyt alleged that Renew NYS was illegally coordinating with the Golombek campaign. In addition, Hoyt alleged that the PAC was acting as an unauthorized committee, spending money on behalf of the Golombek campaign and against Sam Hoyt’s, but was not legally constituted to do that. Renew NYS simply re-constituted itself as a multi-candidate committee and refunded whatever contributions had been above the limits that such an entity could accept, and avoided enforcement action or prosecution.

That’s not how it’s supposed to work, though.  The purpose of these election laws isn’t to enable committees to violate the law and then, when caught, re-declare themselves as something completely different, and have that apply retroactively. Candidates and the public deserve to have accurate information in real time – not months later, after the campaign is long over.

As far as evidence of coordination, take a look at the complaint brought against Pigeon’s and Golisano’s “Responsible New York” in 2008 and recall that Pigeon was a co-signatory for the Joe Mesi campaign while simultaneously running a pro-Mesi PAC, and that Jack O’Donnell was helping Responsible New York while simultaneously a co-signatory on the Barbra Kavanaugh campaign’s committee.

This is likely what Kristy Mazurek’s and Steve Pigeon’s WNY Progressive Caucus (“AwfulPAC”) tried to do when it filed its CF-03 in February 2014 to transform it – retroactively – into a multi-candidate committee participating and spending on candidates’ behalf in the 2013 primaries. We are awaiting final confirmation, but sources indicate that the AwfulPAC declared – nunc pro tunc – that it was an unauthorized committee for Dick Dobson in the primary and general elections, and in the primary for Joyce Wilson Nixon, Barbara Miller-Williams, Rick Zydel, and Wes Moore. They also claimed to be an unauthorized committee for Mark Manna for Amherst Town Board in 2013’s general election. Had AwfulPAC done that at its founding, it could have spent money on behalf of those candidates without coordination; however, as it was originally constituted it was legally only allowed to raise and donate money to campaigns. We’re meant to believe that it broke the law at the time, but a retroactive “oops” filing of a piece of paper retroactively rendered all its activities legal.

The Pigeoning: Niagara

Those of you who pay close attention may recall the AwfulPAC’s brief foray into the Niagara Falls City Council race, specifically working on the behalf of Sam Fruscione. Literature appeared that smeared and defamed Buffalo developer Mark Hamister, who is working on a subsidized hotel project in the Falls.

At the time, Channel 2 ran a story on it, and AwfulPAC admitted it was behind the lit.  Again – not something a PAC is allowed to do. Fruscione lost his election, and it was this piece of literature that led Governor Cuomo angrily to confront Pigeon over the smear against Hamister

We’re waiting to see whether Fruscione is among the candidates for whom AwfulPAC declared it was an independent expenditure committee. 

Mark Manna & AwfulPAC

Note that the AwfulPAC’s retroactive reconstitution as an unauthorized committee included the general election race for Mark Manna. Manna’s campaign’s 2013 10 day Post-Primary disclosure shows the AwfulPAC paying these amounts on his campaign’s  behalf, which Manna reports as “in-kind” donations.

(Click to enlarge) – that’s almost $5,000 in expenses that AwfulPAC supposedly paid for. CORRECTION: These expenditures appear as line-item expenses on AwfulPAC’s own disclosures here and here.  However, they are not disclosed as being expenses made on behalf of the Manna campaign.  Manna listing these as “in-kind” reveals that these expenses were authorized – not unauthorized – expenditures on his campaign’s behalf by an independent committee.

Three of the four AwfulPAC expenditures on Manna’s behalf relate to a Conservative fusion Party primary he had in September 2013. The maximum allowable contribution for that race, however, was $1,000. The fourth expenditure was for lawn signs, which conceivably could have been used for both the primary and the general elections and pro-rated over the two elections.

As for AwfulPAC, they’re in a bind – on the one hand swearing on their paperwork that the money was not authorized by Manna, but Manna swearing that the amounts were authorized contributions. That authorization is held and given by the candidate, not the committee.

This must be another one of those mysteriously accidental clerical errors on the part of the AwfulPAC. How does an independent expenditure committee, claiming no coordination with the candidate or his committee(s), pay for lawn signs? What does it do with them? If AwfulPAC bought the signs and gave them to the candidate or his committee, that’s “coordinating”.

One more point on coordination and AwfulPAC: in a Geoff Kelly article that ran in Artvoice at the time, Mazurek said,

Mazurek laughed off the controversy and called her detractors cry-babies, saying that she’d grown up around hardball politics. She also shrugged off responsibility for the content of the Hogues mailer, saying that the messages were crafted by the managers of the campaigns her PAC supported. “I don’t micromanage,” she said; she just writes the checks.

That bolded part sure sounds like “coordination” to me.

Chris Grant’s Disclosure

Little has been written about Chris Collins’ Chief of Staff, Chris Grant, whose home was also raided back in late May. We know of his involvement with Herd Solutions, but you’ll recall that we’ve written quite a bit about Aaron Pierce and his questionable tobacco money, and ties that Pierce had to Mickey Kearns. One of Pierce’s companies invested heavily in the AwfulPAC in 2013.

Here’s Grant’s disclosure. Note that he was paid to advise Aaron Pierce‘s campaign to become Seneca President, and also Kearns’ Assembly race.

Grant Disclosure

There’s also a sizeable income – over $150,000 – from his side-business at Herd Solutions while simultaneously employed by the County. Grant earned around $160,000 as a federal employee last year, yet Herd Solutions is still in existence and consulting on campaigns, as recently as November 2014. Working in the public sector is great, as Grant took a $9,000 payout of accrued vacation time from the County when he left.

Ganjapreneurs Fire Pigeon

We know that Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting, LLC lobbying firm lost its contract to lobby the state on behalf of the Seneca Nation. We know that Pigeon is renting his home at 1003 Admirals Walk from ganjapreneur Dan Humiston. We now also know that Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting, LLC lobbying firm was recently fired as the lobbyists for “Lewiston Greenhouse“, the marijuana growing company that Modern Disposal now operates as a tomato growing plant called H2Grow.

You can see the original contract between PAPI and Lewiston Greenhouse here.

Note: on Monday we revised our information about Matthew Connors, noting that it was his name that appeared on some mysterious money orders that ended up with the AwfulPAC, but that he had nothing to do with obtaining them. So, who used his name and possibly forged Connors’ signature on these money orders in order to hide the source of these funds? Why didn’t AwfulPAC file a proper disclosure?

Above all – wouldn’t you love to compare AwfulPAC’s bank records with its election law disclosures? I’ll bet they don’t remotely match up.

On the Ninth Day of Preetsmas



On the Seventh Day of Preetsmas, we reported that Pigeon had used an address of 101 Reo Street in Cheektowaga for some of his personal political contributions, as well as the address of record for at least one of his LLCs and two of his PACs. 101 Reo is the home of Sandi Schmidt, Pigeon’s long-time personal assistant and bookkeeper. Pigeon used Schmidt’s address to contribute $50,000 to Andrew Cuomo’s campaign in 2013. It’s believed that Schmidt helped Pigeon handle his money and pay his bills. She would be a critical person for investigators to question, as she would have knowledge about Pigeon’s activities since day one


Who lives where? In some filings, Pigeon says he lives at 101 Reo. In some, he uses 703 or 704 Admiral’s Walk. In others, he uses 1003 Admiral’s Walk. That’s odd, right?

Steve Pigeon bought 703 Admiral’s Walk in 1997, and sold it in May 2009, but not before taking out a $58,000 mortgage through GSDP, LLC at 1900 Main Place, (but has also used 101 Reoremember this disclosure?) which was then the location of Pigeon’s law firm.

Pigeon bought 704 Admiral’s Walk on October 5, 2007, and still owns it.

1003 Admiral’s Walk is owned by Tanning Bed founder and current ganjapreneur Dan Humiston, who is applying to transform the Tyson chicken plant into a medical marijuana growing facility. Back in 2012, Humiston was running for Assembly (Pigeon donated), primarying David DiPietro on the Republican line and Christina Abt on the Independence fusion line. A lawsuit alleged that Humiston didn’t live in the district, and DiPietro’s campaign sent out literature alleging that Pigeon and Humiston were living together.

and the doorbell:

As it turns out, Humiston had claimed that his residence was out in the district, but that he also had a second home at 1003 Admiral’s Walk, which has recently been on the market. Or was it 703?

But more significantly, there are currently two condominium liens against 1003 Admiral’s Walk on file with the Erie County Clerk’s Office for unpaid common fees and assessments; one for $1,122 from October 2013, and one for $9,264 from August 2014. This is separate and distinct from the federal tax liens filed against Pigeon.


Why is Pigeon not living in 704, and instead occupying a 10th floor apartment owned by Dan Humiston?  We know this to be true because look at this image from the Buffalo News regarding the raid of Pigeon’s home on May 28th. See the floor number on the elevator?

Is Pigeon paying for someone to live there? Why aren’t the condo fees being paid? We know that Humiston owes the duty to pay the condo fees, but who is really responsible for the arrearage—the guy who just put down over $200,000 to grow medical marijuana or the guy who has over $200,000 in pending tax liens going back to 2008?


Another oft-used Pigeon address is that of lawyer John Bartolomei in Niagara Falls. Bartolomei’s associate Bill Berard represented Aaron Pierce’s AJ’s Wholesale in this lawsuit, and his office has been known to represent people in connection with inquiries from boards of election. For instance, Berard represented Kristy Mazurek when the Erie County Board of Elections subpoenaed the records of the WNY Progressive Caucus (AwfulPAC) and she resisted turning them over. That matter was litigated before Judge Troutman. Bartolomei is also representing some of the plaintiffs (including Mazurek) in the sexual harassment suit that led to Dennis Gabryszak’s resignation in disgrace, and paved the way for Mazurek’s brother to first defeat Camille Brandon in the Democratic Primary before losing in the general election to Conservative fusion Party member Angela Wozniak for A-143.


When the state Attorney General’s office took over the Erie County BOE’s investigation into AwfulPAC, it took every file and directed the board to cease all activities. That’s why this Buffalo News article about Pigeon attorney Dennis Vacco serving a FOIL on the Erie County BOE for AwfulPAC records is so funny. There likely are not any substantive files at the BOE.


Way back on the first day of Preetsmas, we speculated as to why a bigshot Syracuse developer like Scott Congel would need to associate himself with every political malcontent in Western New York just to build a glorified shopping center in West Seneca. Our conclusion was that this may have been an effort to move the Seneca Creek Casino from Buffalo to a more prominent location off the Thruway in West Seneca. It bears mentioning, then, that the NYS Joint Commission on Public Ethics lists Steve Pigeon’s PAPI Consulting, LLC as an approved lobbyist for S&R Company of West Seneca, LLC., which is the owner of the Seneca Mall location of Congel’s project in The JCOPE record is here. Also note this:

and this:

Interesting, then, that the Senecas also retained PAPI Consulting, including Pigeon, Gary Parenti, and Grassroots’ Maurice Garner to lobby the state. The Senecas have since fired Pigeon’s group. Pigeon’s GSDP, LLC also engaged in lobbying, based on this document, but there appears to be nothing else on file with JCOPE right now.

That’s because GSDP was the subject of a JCOPE enforcement action, settling for a fine of $500.

GSDP Settlement by Alan Bedenko


Back in January 2014, Bob McCarthy and Pigeon’s other stenographer, Frank Parlato, reported on how Buffalo’s own G. Steven helped sponsor a big-ticket Hollywood fundraiser for Governor Andrew Cuomo. Where’s the donation? Who made it? Pigeon is shown to have paid $50,000 in January 2013 and Landen paid $5,000 in December 2013. But where was this supposed $25,000 ticket for the LA fundraiser in January? It doesn’t show up under PAPI or GSDP or Landen, either. Very odd.

On the Eighth Day of Preetsmas



The Money Orders

An article appeared in the Buffalo News on Saturday that confirmed rumors that had been swirling throughout town almost all last week.

On 8/19/13, the WNY Progressive Caucus—the “AwfulPAC” that is at the center of the current law enforcement investigation—reported receiving $4,000 from Frank Max’s Progressive Democrats of WNY. 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, which is truly magical and prescient. Or just a bunch of BS.

The News wrote:

Now, questions center on the three postal money orders purchased on Aug. 14, 2013 and made payable to the WNY Progressive Caucus, according to the sources.

A name appears on the postal orders as the purchaser. But nobody familiar with the case can say if the person named on the money orders actually purchased them.

Kristy L. Mazurek, treasurer of the WNY Progressive Caucus, endorsed the postal orders and deposited them, the sources said. Yet state Board of Elections campaign finance records indicate no corresponding contribution.

The Postal Service maintains no requirement to show identification when purchasing or sending postal money orders under $3,000, according to spokeswoman Karen L. Mazurkiewicz.

(UPDATED: see editor’s note at bottom.) The person whose name appears on the money orders is Matthew Connors, the son of prominent attorney Terry Connors. Sources close to the investigation confirm this information, though other sources indicate that Matt Connors is a victim of fraud: We are told that law enforcement is satisfied that Matt Connors did not put his name on these money orders.

In any case, the money orders represent the missing $2,500, which was lumped into the $1,500 from the Progressive Democrats to show a $4,000 August 2013 deposit.

Matt Connors works for developer Nick Sinatra a Republican fundraiser with ties to Pigeon. It also bears mentioning that, although it’s not publicized on Sinatra’s website, Erie County Legislator Peter Savage III also works for Sinatra and was until recently the treasurer of the Committee for Change PAC, which Steve Casey now controls and generously contributed to Conservative Party candidate Joe Lorigo. Savage used to work for Casey and Mayor Byron Brown and it goes without saying that he has a relationship with Pigeon.

So many entities, so little time

In August 2013, Kennedy for Senate spent $39,500 for “consulting” with Niagara Frontier Business Solutions, which is a front entity for Jack O’Donnell. He is its registered agent, and the corporate address is his house. This underscores the fact that Kennedy for Senate participated in the primary election that year, triggering the obligation to file pre-primary and post-primary reports under Election Law 14-102.

The AwfulPAC shows an inexplicable liability owed to Marketing Tech—the company whose representative identified Steve Casey as its contact for all of AwfulPAC’s literature—which dates to May 9, 2013. That’s odd, since Mazurek and Pigeon claimed that the entity didn’t exist until August. Had it existed in May 2013, it would have been required to file a July periodical report to the state Board of Elections, and a 32-day pre-primary report. It did neither.

Mazurek’s Status

Mazurek is reportedly singing like a canary, having been questioned by federal and state officials. She and her attorney are now pretending that Mazurek had nothing to do with anything having to do with AwfulPAC. Right. Why, then, in September 2013 would she say she “started” the AwfulPAC?!

She started the PAC. She said so, and it was in all-caps, so you know it’s true.

AwfulPAC Isn’t / Wasn’t a PAC

Finally, the AwfulPAC and all of these other “PACs” aren’t really PACs, because no such thing exists under New York State election law. There are really only two recognized legal categories: party committee and political committee. Under the category of political committee, a PAC is simply a political committee that only donates money to other committees—either to a party committee or to individual candidate committees.  It does not participate in the campaign and does not buy goods or services on behalf of such a committee/candidate.  It is also bound by the campaign finance contribution limits as provided for in election law 14-114.

Contributions to such a (PAC) committee aren’t limited, but the PAC itself is bound by the same maximum contribution limits an individual. A PAC merely has to file a statement of its treasurer, depository, etc.; it doesn’t need to file the CF-03, where a political committee must swear under oath whether it is authorized to support certain candidates and then list them, and to state under oath the candidates whom it is supporting,but is not authorized by the candidate(s) to support.

For a standard political committee, whether it is authorized or unauthorized, the key is that the CF-03 makes them declare their hand, under oath, as to which candidate(s) they are authorized to support and which one(s) they are supporting without authorization—that is, as an “independent expenditure” committee (IE). Under election law 14-100 (9), such expenditures are exempted from the statutory definition of “contribution”—and thus not subject to the limits imposed by Article 14. Pigeon has always declared that his committees are PACs, as they clearly announced and called themselves initially, when they were discovered. And while they even filed their CF-02 late, they never filed (at least initially anyway) a CF-03—whereby they would have had to state who they were supporting and whether they were authorized or not authorized.  They simply hid behind the CF-02 PAC filing throughout August and to the date of the primary.

Mazurek then re-filed her CF-02 stating hers was a regular political committee (not a PAC) and claiming to be an IE.  Unbelievably, it was now dated onpPrimary day and received the next day by the state Board of Elections—after all the damage was done and no publicity could be had about the committee’s mission and who the candidates are that it was supporting.

Had its CF statements also been filed before the primary, the media, the public, and the opposition could have publicized those behind the committee. But it was all kept in the dark until the voters had been duped.

It gets worse. Though prodded by the state board of elections, Mazurek still never filed the CF-03 statement required for an unauthorized committee and naming the candidates that the committee was supporting until long after the board’s investigation was begun—sometime in early 2014. Most likely, Pigeon instructed Mazurek to just file as a PAC, and they figured they could skate past the primary. They succeeded in doing just that.

Now, however, if Mazurek rolls on Pigeon and tells this story, there is a possible conspiracy charge for filing a false instrument—possibly more—even before you get to coordination. Since Mazurek didn’t change the filing to an IE committee until the date of the primary election, all the time they were raising and spending money in August/September 2013 before the primary, they were filed as a political committee with no CF-03.  Can they file later and claim to be in compliance and legally—retroactively—an IE committee? Or maybe they are stuck being a PAC, thus having violated the campaign contribution limits on their face—with no recourse to claiming to be an IE, because they hadn’t yet filed for it properly. To allow them to retroactively gain status after the war is over would be a total perversion of the law.

We have to assume that prosecutors know about all of this, and the question is whether a jury would find the requisite intent with respect to the allegedly fraudulent filings, missing donors, hiding the names of the true donors, and, of course, the issue of coordination. That’s before we get to kickbacks and money-laundering.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At 3pm, June 8, the paragraph noted above was amended to reflect information from new sources, confirmed by original sources, suggesting that Matt Connors was not the source of the donations or the money orders in question.

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