New York State Supreme Court Judge John Michalek is rumored to be under investigation.
New York State Supreme Court Judge John Michalek is rumored to be under investigation.

The Public Record: Michalek Rumor, Humiston, Annunziata…

by / May. 3, 2016 5pm EST

MICHALEK GOSSIP: Those downtown lawyers are always talking. The latest we’ve heard is that state federal investigators recently descended on the county courthouse as part of an inquiry into New York State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek. After that, the stuff freighted onto the rumors—other judges, bribes, imminent arrests  or resignations, cases involving infamous local political figures—is unconfirmed. More soon.

WHY ANNUNZIATA RESIGNED FROM PEACE BRIDGE AUTHORITY: Last Friday, at a meeting of the board of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, Peace Bridge general manager Ron Rienas read aloud a letter of resignation from Anthony M. Annunziata, the former board chairman and vice chairman who is an appointee of the Canadian Ministry of Transport.

The Buffalo News reported that Rienas cited “health and business reasons,” but offered no specifics in regard to those business reasons, though they are quite clearly delineated in the letter of resignation: Annunziata does marketing consulting for a firm that hopes to win the lucrative lease for the Canadian duty-free shop at the Peace Bridge. 

The current lease on the duty-free expires October 31, and the authority’s board voted to engage an open bidding process in order to find an operator. The duty-free franchise is a moneymaking machine, both for the operator and the bridge authority: In 2014, the authority received $6.3 million in rental income from duty-free operations—second only to truck tolls ($15.9 million) as a source of revenue. The rent is based on the duty-free’s annual revenue.

In the letter, Annunziata says that, when he learned his client intended to respond the the authority’s request for proposals, he informed Rienas of a possible conflict and recused himself from any dealings with the contract. On further consideration, and taking health issues into account, he then decided it best to resign his appointment.

This, Rienas said in a phone interview Tuesday, is how conflicts are supposed to be resolved. He also noted that Canadian law does not require public officeholders such as Annunziata—who is a volunteer, not a government employee—to wait a period of time before doing business with the agency they’ve just left.

Still, Annunziata’s client clearly enjoys an advantage over its competitors: He was part of the decision to issue an RFP, part of the conversations about its terms and how they were written. He has served 10 years on the board; he has relationships there that will serve his client.

Sam Hoyt is the current board chair and has tangled often with Annunziata and other Canadian board members, publicly and privately. (Notably, Hoyt and the American appointees to the board sought to replace Rienas; Annunziata and the Canadians protected him.)

“On the US side, in New York, there’s a firewall—a prohibition of any public officeholder from doing any business with the agency he served for two years after leaving,” Hoyt said. “I’m surprised there isn’t a similar prohibition in Ontario.”

AND SPEAKING OF TAX-FREE ZONES: If you read The Public, then you know Dan Humiston not primarily as a tanning salon mogul but as a dabbler in local politics (he ran against Congressman Brian Higgins in 2008) and a neighbor to political consultant and lobbyist Steve Pigeon in the Admiral’s Walk condominiums on Buffalo’s waterfront. In fact, he and Pigeon have done some odd swapping of addresses there in years past; if you’re interested in the dynamics, I refer you to Alan Bedenko’s coverage of the subject on dailypublic.com.

Now Humiston and Pigeon have something new in common: federal tax liens. Pigeon has been racking them up for the past couple years—more than $250,000 when we last counted. Now Humiston has joined the club, hit with a federal tax lien on March 29 for $217,443.11.

Curiously, Humiston sold 1003 Admiral’s Walk—where Steve Pigeon seemed to be living when state and federal agents came to raid his home back in May 2015—just two weeks before the lien was filed.

Does no one pay taxes at Admiral’s Walk?