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Former power broker guilty in scheme to steer contribution to Cuomo campaign

Former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon at

Former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon at the Capitol in Albany on June 10, 2009. Credit: AP/Mike Groll

A former Buffalo power broker has pleaded guilty in a scheme to steer an illegal $25,000 contribution from a foreign national to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s re-election campaign.

The Cuomo campaign said it had been unaware of the scheme involving former Erie County Democratic Chairman Steven Pigeon and would donate the illegal donation. 

Pigeon entered the guilty plea Tuesday in federal court.

Pigeon once was ally of Cuomo and an adviser to B. Thomas Golisano, the Rochester billionaire who ran unsuccessfully for governor three times. Pigeon and Golisano also engineered a state Senate coup in 2009 by facilitating the switch of four Democrats to the Republican caucus. Pigeon subsequently served as counsel to the coalition during its brief existence.

As part of the plea deal, Pigeon admitted taking part in a conspiracy to make an illegal $25,000 contribution to Cuomo’s 2014 campaign. The donation that was prohibited because it came from a foreign citizen.

In a separate case two weeks earlier, Pigeon admitted bribing a local judge.

According to federal officials, Pigeon conspired to facilitate the illegal contribution to the Cuomo campaign in the name of a straw donor and hide the identity of the true donor, identified by The Buffalo News as David Baazov, founder and CEO of Amaya, a Montreal-based gambling company.

Pigeon could face up to 16 months in prison. He had been facing conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud charges.

The Cuomo campaign said it will reject the contribution because it came from a foreign national.

“As the facts demonstrate, our campaign was defrauded by Mr. Pigeon's illegal actions. The contribution in question will be immediately donated, and we trust the court will handle Mr. Pigeon accordingly," a campaign spokeswoman said in a statement to Buffalo media outlets.

Marc Molinaro, Cuomo’s Republican opponent in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, criticized Cuomo, a Democrat, after Pigeon’s guilty plea.

“Andrew Cuomo spends his days pointing fingers at others while his own backyard is despicably dirty,” Molinaro said in a statement.

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