BUFFALO, N.Y. (CN) – A former Erie County prosecutor claims the district attorney fired him after he publicly accused his supervisors of failing to investigate a political operative who was alleged to have laundered money during the 2007 county executive race. District Attorney Frank Sedita III issued a statement roundly denouncing the allegations.
Mark Sacha worked in the DA’s office for 22 years, most recently as a deputy district attorney, until he told the Buffalo News that newly elected District Attorney Sedita had a conflict of interest because of close ties with the target of Sacha’s investigation, Steven Pigeon.
Pigeon is a former Erie County Democratic Party chairman and the alleged mastermind of the defection of two Democratic state senators to the Republican Party last spring.
Sedita and his office are the only defendants named in the lawsuit filed in Federal Court, under the state’s whistleblower law.
Sacha claims his investigation of the election “revealed evidence of unregistered corporations, clandestine meetings, suspicious money transfers and phony explanations.”
Sedita declined to comment Monday, but said he stands by his October 2009 statement in which he called Sacha’s allegations “false,” and said he fired Sacha because he had “lost confidence” in Sacha’s ability to perform his job.
Former District Attorney Frank Clark assigned Sacha to investigate several financial transactions during the 2007 County Executive Democratic primary race.
Sacha, along with the FBI, found evidence that a candidate tried to conceal the identity of some campaign donors. The investigation found that a contributor to candidate Paul Clark had violated election laws by paying a third party “bags of cash” – around $20,000 – to conduct public opinion polls.
Campaign donor Michael Mullins told Buffalo News that he made the payments to Donald Turchiarelli, which spurred the investigation, according to Sacha’s complaint.
“Sacha discovered that Steven Pigeon was directly involved in the illegal arrangement between the Clark campaign and Turchiarelli,” the complaint states. “Sacha learned that that Pigeon arranged, facilitated and attended a clandestine meeting between Turchiarelli and Timothy Clark in August 2007.”
Timothy Clark candidate Paul Clark’s brother.
“That nighttime meeting was held at Pigeon’s mother’s home … at the meeting Turchiarelli was hired by the Clark campaign and was informed that he would be paid by Mullins individually, an arrangement that was illegal,” according to the lawsuit.
Mullins’ business and Paul Clark pleaded guilty to an unclassified misdemeanor, the complaint states.
But Sacha says Sedita rebuffed his attempts to report the full extent of his findings, which targeted Pigeon.
Sacha attributes that to the close relationship between the two politicians. Sacha says Pigeon was responsible for lining up many of Sedita’s critical endorsements for the DA job, and that he is a close friend of Sedita’s father, state Supreme Court Judge Frank A. Sedita Jr.
“Pigeon is a well-known politician throughout the state and is generally credited as the architect of the defection of two Democratic State Senators to the Republican Party in the spring of 2009, which brought state government to a standstill for several months,” Sacha claims.
Pigeon currently serves as counsel to Democratic Majority Leader Pedro Espada of the Bronx, who started the summerlong stalemate in Albany when he swapped parties in a power play.
Pigeon is also a “political ally and social acquaintance of then District Attorney Frank Clark,” Sacha said. He claims the former DA and Pigeon would dine together even while the money laundering investigation was taking place.
Sedita said in October that state police are investigating “an Erie County politician with respect to suspicious financial transactions, including suspected transfers of election campaign contributions to personal accounts.” He said he would not elaborate further.
Sacha seeks reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, $300,000 in damages and attorney’s fees. He is represented by Matthew Fusco with Oppenheimer & Greenfield in Rochester.