BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Members of the Erie County Board of Elections had longtime Democratic political operative Steve Pigeon in their cross hairs nearly 10 years before last week’s court appearance on election law violations.
“There were actual campaign filings that were required periodically by state law to be done,” said Republican Elections Commissioner Ralph Mohr. “And when we noticed filings on the part of the recipients of the money and the payers of the money, we noticed that there were irregularities. There was money basically disappearing in those transactions.”
They believed they had a case — one with far-reaching impact.
“We had approached the state board of elections — which was very cooperative — we went to the governor’s office, we went to the district attorney’s office in Albany, we had approached the district attorneys in three counties in western New York and spoke to them. And we could never get any traction.”
Mohr said there were many reasons for that, namely that Pigeon had a long political reach, that went even beyond the the governor’s office. He also said election law violations aren’t typically priorities because there’s no threat to public safety, and there are few district attorneys who had divisions set up to investigate such white collar crime.
“That was frustrating over a period of 10 years, us believing that all our efforts that we had gone through — and it was a sizable effort — was not going to see any type of light or any kind of fruition,”Mohr said.
That changed a few years back, when the Attorney General’s Office got wind of Mohr’s findings, and told him, ‘our investigators will take it from here.’
“They were too numerous to be just mistakes that occurred, that there was an intentional pattern here,” Mohr said.
The state Attorney General’s Office says in 2013, Pigeon, Kristy Mazurek and David Pfaff created the Western New York Progressive Caucus.
The political action committee allowed them to contribute tens of thousands of dollars for two candidates for county legislature and one candidate for town supervisor. Sources tell News 4 the recipients were Rick Zydel of Cheektowaga, Wes Moore in Lancaster and Mark Manna in Amherst.
They’re accused of working together, coordinating with candidates themselves and failing to report where the money was going.
“You don’t want elections to be bought, and you want to have faith in the candidates that are taking office that they’re not owned by somebody who has financed their campaign,” Mohr said. “When you have $250,000, when you have $100,000 being dumped into a campaign and not being disclosed where it’s coming from, that certainly can sway an election. And when it’s done without the knowledge of people going to the polls, the system becomes corrupted.”