Without ruling on the central allegation in the lawsuit – did District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III give a pass to a political ally? – a federal judge dismissed a whistle-blower suit Monday by one of Sedita’s former prosecutors.
The judge’s ruling represents a victory for Sedita in his three-year-old legal battle with Mark A. Sacha, the former prosecutor who lost his job after publicly accusing Sedita of failing to pursue a case against political operative G. Steven Pigeon.
In ruling against Sacha, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny found that Sacha’s public criticism of Sedita’s relationship with Pigeon was not protected by the First Amendment or state whistle-blower law.
“It’s a great decision,” Sedita said Monday. “I feel completely exonerated.”
The lawsuit stemmed from Sacha’s firing in 2009 and raised questions about political dealings involving Sedita and Pigeon, as well as Frank J. Clark, Sedita’s predecessor as district attorney.
In his suit, Sacha claimed that while he was investigating Pigeon, the political operative helped orchestrate a series of endorsements that allowed Sedita to win election as district attorney.
Sacha has claimed from Day One that Pigeon’s political and personal relationship with Sedita and Clark is why they passed on prosecuting Pigeon on charges of election law violations.
“As we said from the beginning, the claims were meritless,” Adam W. Perry, Sedita’s defense lawyer, said Monday.
Sacha’s suit detailed Pigeon’s alleged involvement in laundering a $10,000 contribution in the 2007 race for county executive.
The money allegedly came from the campaign of former County Executive Joel A. Giambra to the unsuccessful campaign of former West Seneca Supervisor Paul T. Clark, a Pigeon ally.
Paul Clark, who tried to get the Democratic Party endorsement for county executive, got a misdemeanor plea deal in the case, but Sacha alleged that both Sedita and Frank Clark were afraid to pursue charges against Pigeon because of his powerful role in local politics.
“This case draws back the blinds of how things really work,” Sacha said at one point last year. “This is all about the oath of a prosecutor to issue justice evenly.”
Sedita acknowledged meeting with Pigeon twice during his office’s investigation of Pigeon but claims he was unaware of the investigation until months later.
Sedita and Frank Clark have repeatedly denied Sacha’s allegations. Both have said that they viewed Pigeon as a witness, not a target, in the Paul Clark investigation, and have suggested that Sacha is nothing more than a disgruntled former employee.
Sacha, who declined to comment Monday, was seeking reinstatement to his job as part of his civil suit, as well as lost wages and benefits and $300,000 in damages.
At the core of Sacha’s allegations is a memo he wrote allegedly detailing the criminal case against Pigeon, a former Erie County Democratic chairman.
“I’ve always thought it was superfluous and malicious,” Pigeon said of Sacha’s lawsuit Monday. “He was the one who acted politically and personally.”
Sacha, who wrote the memo when he was still a prosecutor, wanted to make it public. Sedita fought to keep it secret, claiming the memo is a confidential grand jury document that he is legally obligated to keep secret.
Pigeon, meanwhile, was never prosecuted.
Sacha made a request for a special prosecutor, but former Gov. David A. Paterson denied his request even though his office found a “pattern of violations of election law, some of which may involve money laundering or deliberate evasion of requirements of the election law.”
Paterson referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which has taken no action against Pigeon.
Pigeon, widely viewed as one of the state’s most influential Democrats, was closely aligned with the political action committee of billionaire B. Thomas Golisano, former owner of the Buffalo Sabres.
When asked about Skretny’s decision not to address the credibility or truthfulness of Sacha’s claims against him, Sedita said the decision speaks volumes about the case.
“The court didn’t get to the factual merits of the case because there were no factual merits,” he said of Sacha and his allegations.
“There are no facts to support his claim.”
The relationship between Sedita and Pigeon, and to a lesser extent the one between Pigeon and Sedita’s father, retired State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita Jr., had become a focal point in Sacha’s civil suit.
Pigeon doesn’t deny his close friendship with the former judge and says that was one of the reasons he was so willing to help the younger Sedita.
Sacha declined to comment on a possible appeal.