Former State Supreme Court justice sentenced to 16 months in jail in political corruption case

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Sep. 18—BUFFALO — A former New York State Supreme Court justice is about to join his one-time political patron in a jail cell.

Former justice, John A. Michalek, 71, was sentenced Tuesday to a total of 16 months in jail and a $5,000 fine for admitting that he took bribes from long-time Erie County political power broker and Democratic Committee Chairman Steven Pigeon.

Supreme Court Justice Donald F. Cerio, Jr. sentenced Michalek to one year in jail for his guilty plea, in June 2016, to a charge of bribe receiving and four months in jail for his guilty plea to a charge of offering a false instrument for filing. The sentences will run consecutively.

After entering his plea, Michalek submitted a letter of resignation from his judgeship and was disbarred from practicing law.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Michalek accepted bribes that "influenced judicial decisions and official appointments."

"Michalek violated the very laws he swore to uphold as a State Supreme Court Justice and lost New Yorkers' trust, all for personal gain," James said. "New Yorkers deserve a justice system they can have faith in. That's why this corrupt behavior is so egregious and unacceptable. Regardless of party affiliation, my office remains committed to rooting out corruption in government, at every level and in every branch."

In July, Pigeon was sentenced, on consecutive days, on both federal and state criminal charges stemming from the bribery scheme and for arranging illegal political donations.

Cerio sentenced Pigeon, 61, to one year in jail for his guilty plea, in September 2018, to a charge of third-degree bribery for bribing Michalek between 2012 and 2015. Pigeon will serve that sentence concurrently with a four-month term handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara for his plea to a charge of conspiring to illegally cause a political campaign donation.

Pigeon, who was an attorney, has also been disbarred.

The cases were the result of a joint investigation between the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York and the New York Attorney General.

Between February 2012 and April 2015, Michalek and Pigeon exchanged emails and text messages which showed that Pigeon was bribing the justice in order to influence judicial decisions. The messages showed that Pigeon helped Michalek to gain employment and official appointments for two of his family members.

Pigeon also gave Michalek free tickets to box seats for Buffalo Sabres hockey games and gave the justice's family a free ticket to a $1,000 political fundraiser in New York City.

In addition, the two men were accused of discussing multiple pending lawsuits that Michalek was presiding over.

Michalek reportedly shared privileged and non-public information with Pigeon so that he could provide input and advice on the cases. In one case, Michalek appointed an attorney, chosen by Pigeon, to a court receivership.

Because Pigeon's choice was not on a court-issued list of eligible receivers, Michalek filed a document with the Office of Court Administration falsely claiming he needed that specific attorney's expertise to handle the receivership.

In the federal case, Pigeon admitted to arranging a $25,000 donation, from a Canadian businessman with online gaming interests, to the 2014 re-election campaign of then New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Neither Cuomo nor his campaign faced any charges of wrongdoing.

Donations to election campaigns from foreign nationals are prohibited by federal law.

Pigeon continues to face an indictment relating to the rape of a young girl in 2016. He has been charged with two counts of predatory sexual assault against a child, one count of first-degree rape, one count of first-degree criminal sexual act, one count of first-degree sexual abuse, and one count of endangering the welfare of a child.

Erie County prosecutors have charged that Pigeon engaged in sexual intercourse and sexual conduct with a child who was less than 11-years-old at a location in Erie County between November 2016 and December 2016.

Pigeon has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has suggested that the case against him is a "set up."