It's Beginning to Look a lot Like Preetsmas

by / May. 6, 2016 6am EST

Preetsmas is the Reason for the Season

We’ve come a long way from the investigation into a failed, obscure campaign committee’s alleged election law finance irregularities. First, a re-cap of sorts: 

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.

Preetsmas in September (9/14/15): Big money in Cheektowaga politics. 

Preetsmas: Pigeon’s New Liens (12/28/15): The total reaches $270,000 in tax and condo liens. 

The purpose of the Preetsmas series was twofold: 1. to provide updates into the investigation and the different tacks it might take; and 2. to provide background into Pigeon’s modus operandi since being ejected from the chairmanship of the Erie County Democratic Committee in 2002. 

All of this is about patronage, money, and political power — the very depths of New York’s overall political cesspit. New York is a place where Sheldon Silver, Dean Skelos, Pedro Espada, and myriad other criminals — caught and uncaught — have enriched themselves and their sycophants for decades. The laws are weak or confusing, the reporting opaque, the money flows like water through devices like the LLC loophole and donations to committees rather than candidates. The regulatory and law enforcement agencies charged with overseeing this system seem generally unwilling to do their job. 

Unity through Sabotage

Over the last fifteen years, Pigeon and a revolving door of underlings and associates have worked that system to undermine and sabotage the Erie County Democratic Committee. The chairman has some control and a lot of influence to steer people into various government jobs, and that sort of power has incalculable value. But playing within the letter and spirit of the rules would eliminate a key ingredient in the Pigeon special sauce: the element of surprise. I even gave it a name: 

Pigeoning: pi·geon·ing \ˈpi-jən-iŋ\: (n) the action of using money and influence, oftentimes pushing the election law envelope, to actively sabotage and undermine the Erie County Democratic Committee.

Blindside the party’s endorsed candidate with a sudden and unexpected influx of expensive mailers, robocalls, and ads that defame them, or worse. Fund it through various and sundry LLCs set up for no other reason than to legally flaunt campaign finance rules. Set up PACs or independent committees whose funding and organization is sketchy, at best, or criminal, at worst. Conspire fusion party bosses, for whom influence over patronage hires regularly trumps any manufactured, elastic ideological tenets. 

May Day!

Used in an emergency, it’s a bastardization of the French imperative, m’aidez, but also the day Europeans celebrate what we call Labor Day. This May 1st, rumors began swirling around the WNY political water cooler. Arrests! Investigations! Judges! Feds! State Cops! The story developed through the week with some excellent reporting from Geoff Kelly in the Public, and Bob McCarthy and Dan Herbeck at the Buffalo News. Here’s what we know, from my sources and what’s been reported already: 

When the State Police raided the home owned by Dan Humiston where Steve Pigeon was living at the time, they came away with computers and other evidence. Sources who wish to remain unnamed tell me that Pigeon was a digital packrat, and law enforcement has been combing through over a decade’s worth of emails sent to and from Steve Pigeon. One can only imagine the scope and scale of that treasure trove.  

News reports indicate that Supreme Court Justice John Michalek is accused of contacting Pigeon via email to try and secure a Washington job for a relative, alleging that someone committed bribery. 

Courthouse sources say plainclothes officers came to Michalek’s chambers on 25 Delaware Avenue late last week as part of their ongoing investigation. Judge Michalek has a reputation for being a fair and straight-shooting judge, so his involvement comes as a shock to many in the legal community. It is unclear what Michalek’s next steps are, or whether he is cooperating with the joint state and federal investigation. Everybody has lawyered up. Other names have come up, but at this point anything else is only unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo. 

It’s believed that whatever is happening took place against the backdrop of a string of lawsuits against the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority arising out of the scandal-plagued demolition of the Kensington Towers. One lawyer involved with a related case noted that Steve Pigeon appeared unexpectedly at a private mediation set up to attempt to fashion a global civil settlement of all related pending lawsuits, which were being handled together. At least one of these lawsuits was brought by Centerstone Development, a company with ties to occasional Pigeon ally Hormoz Mansouri. These BMHA claims and litigants are being repeatedly brought up as a mise en scene; no one is accusing the litigants or lawyers of any wrongdoing. 

Also perhaps indicative of some sort of panic, there were attempts — successful and not — to liquidate both Admiral’s Walk apartments that have been cited in this Preetsmas series. Tanning Bed founder and marijuana impresario Dan Humiston sold unit 1003 in early March 2016. Just days after that sale was recorded at the clerk’s office, Humiston’s $217,000 federal tax lien was recorded, as well. Steve Pigeon had been living in that unit for some time, including on the day of the 2015 Preetsmas raids. Pigeon, however, owned unit 704, but didn’t live there. He attempted to sell that unit, but would not — or more likely could not — consummate the sale, resulting in the previously-reported breach of contract suit. Pigeon underboss Kristy Mazurek accepted service of process for Pigeon at the 1003 apartment

Now What? 

Something is brewing. We’re coming up on the first anniversary of the Preetsmas raids, and people have been wondering what, if anything, is to come of them. This week’s revelations offer a small glimpse into an investigation that has gone off on tangents which may be much more serious than just some deliberate campaign finance violations.

Consider that law enforcement now has access to Steve Pigeon’s financial records and over a decade’s worth of written communications. It takes time to wade through that and audit what’s what. It may explain the extent — and, more importantly timing - of Pigeon’s own tax liens

There were rumors earlier this week that Schneiderman would be in town to make a big announcement about possible charges and arrests, but that hasn’t happened. Chatter now is that it may happen next week. 

I’m still waiting to write the 12th day of Preetsmas.