WEEK IN REVIEW : Three operatives loyal to Cuomo were targets of search warrants

By LOUIS FLORES

Tightening the prosecutorial noose around the political necks of officials with ties to Albany, a team of federal and state investigators executed search warrants on the homes of three political operatives, some with political connections to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York).

The homes of G. Steven Pigeon, Steven Casey, and Christopher Grant were searched, according to a report published by the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Mr. Pigeon, described to be a political ally of Governor Cuomo, had been the subject of previous controversies, but he has never been charged with wrong-doing.  Mark Sacha, a former deputy district attorney, had once probed the political and campaign activities of Mr. Pigeon, but Mr. Sacha has said that conflicts of interest between the Erie County District Attorney's Office and local political operatives have undermined the independence of any investigation.

The Moreland Commission had begun to investigate the activities of a political action committee supported by Mr. Pigeon known as the Western New York Progressive Caucus.  However, the Moreland Commission was later disbanded by backroom budget negotiations led by Albany's "three men in a room" at that time then :  Governor Cuomo, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and State Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), forcing Mr. Sacha to write a letter to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, personally appealing to the nation's top federal prosecutor in New York's southern district, to carry on with that investigation.  

According to the WBFO report, the search warrants were "believed to have arisen" from the activities of the political action committee.  

Mr. Casey is a former deputy mayor of Buffalo, who served under Mayor Byron Brown (D-Buffalo), and is a political ally of both Mr. Pigeon and Mr. Grant.

For his reëlection bid last year, Governor Cuomo wanted to win the general election by a margin of victory higher than ever attained by his late father, Mario Cuomo.  To do that, Governor Cuomo needed to decisively win majorities in Western New York counties, which had eluded his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2010.  

To pander to the local political machines that operate the get-out-the-vote effort, Governor Cuomo entreated on local political leaders for greater political support ; selected a running mate, Kathy Hochul, from Buffalo ; and announced a plan to create a series of grants named the "Buffalo Billion," to revitalize the economy of the Buffalo region.

Since Governor Cuomo has a strained relationship with Jeremy Zellner, the chair of the Erie County Committee of the Democratic Party, Governor Cuomo has relied on Mr. Pigeon to act as a proxy for a local political boss, wrote the journalist Robert McCarthy in a report published by The Buffalo News.  

With the execution of these search warrants, investigators are now circling around to Governor Cuomo's realm of influence in Buffalo.  

In 2014, federal investigators met with several Cuomo administration officials, who had controversial dealings with the doomed Moreland Commission, including Lawrence Schwartz ; Mylan Denerstein ; and Heather Green, the former assistant to Regina Calcaterra, the former executive director of the Moreland Commission.

And in this year alone, the office of U.S. Attorney Bharara has secured federal grand jury indictments against Governor Cuomo's two compatriots in the "three men in a room" up in Albany :  Assemblymember Silver and State Senator Skelos, closing in on Governor Cuomo's key political supporters.

After Governor Cuomo had summarily announced the disbanding of the Moreland Commission, a team of investigative journalists at The New York Times published a bombshell report, detailing examples of actions that Cuomo administration officials allegedly undertook to hobble the work of the corruption-fighting panel, leading to a media spin campaign by Cuomo administration officials that triggered an obstruction of justice warning letter to Governor Cuomo from U.S. Attorney Bharara. 

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