The former prosecutor who claimed in 2009 that election law violators get a free pass in Erie County was scheduled to tell a state panel Tuesday that most district attorneys are too mired in politics to pursue “political friends and political family.”
“District attorneys have subpoena power but choose not to use it,” former Assistant District Attorney Mark A. Sacha said in prepared testimony to the Moreland Commission, which the governor appointed this year to investigate public corruption. “They have the power and means, but lack the will. This is the sad truth.”
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III fired Sacha in 2009 after The Buffalo News aired the former public corruption prosecutor’s complaints that Sedita and predecessor Frank J. Clark III looked the other way on election law violations allegedly committed by political operative G. Steven Pigeon.
Sacha’s complaint in 2009 reached the governor’s office and then was referred to U.S. prosecutors in New York City. But no official ever acted on it.
Now Sacha has traveled to Albany to further press his case before the first upstate hearing of the commission created earlier this year by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to root out public corruption.
Though the commission is led by two district attorneys of major counties and also counts Sedita as a Cuomo- appointed member, Sacha emphasized that few elected prosecutors pursue election law violations because they are so dependent on the political process.
“Election fraud and public corruption are not prosecuted properly, not because of a lack of laws in this state, but by a lack of will,” he testified. “The sad reality is that district attorneys are political.”
“Many have horrible conflicts of interest, which affect their ability to act,” he added. “In order to reach their position, they make alliances, accept money and cut political deals with other politicians. They reach their goals through these people.”
He said he would ask the commission to consider stronger recommendations for district attorneys to recuse themselves from political cases when it submits its final report to the governor.
Sacha, now a defense attorney, was scheduled to tell the Albany hearing of his experience investigating Paul T. Clark’s 2007 campaign for county executive, a rare election law probe that resulted in a guilty plea entered by the former West Seneca supervisor. Sacha has always maintained that Frank Clark, and then Sedita, provided a pass to Pigeon on alleged election law violations uncovered during the Paul Clark probe because of the former Erie County Democratic chairman’s political power.
Both men have denied the accusations.
Sacha was also slated to refer to a Sunday story in The News outlining new complaints against Pigeon that are now the subject of a complaint before the commission. County Legislators Betty Jean Grant and Timothy R. Hogues have officially asked it to probe the Pigeon-backed WNY Progressive Caucus, which raised and spent around $250,000 in just a few weeks this summer to oppose candidates backed by the Erie County Democratic organization.
“Current election campaigns are wrought with allegations of false filings, straw donors and donations which exceed contribution limits,” Sacha said. “This commission has received a complaint about Mr. Pigeon. These allegations of corruption in Erie County have gone on for years.”
Pigeon has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and he dismissed as baseless the legislators’ request for the commission to investigate potential illegalities like coordination between his group and individual campaigns.
After his firing, Sacha filed a civil suit, claiming wrongful termination, that was dismissed last year by Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, who stopped short of addressing whether Sedita sidestepped Pigeon’s alleged violations. Instead, 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. Sacha is now appealing Skretny’s ruling.
“As a result of my attempt to do the right thing and hold Mr. Pigeon accountable, I was retaliated against by his friend, Frank Sedita,” Sacha said. “When I informed the public of Mr. Sedita’s hypocrisy and misconduct, I was fired.”
He further criticized the district attorney for his insistence that the Board of Elections or police agencies investigate election law cases before he will consider prosecution.
“Mr. Sedita has made public statements making it clear that he will not investigate election crimes, yet he sits on this panel,” he said. “This is wrong and an abdication of his sworn duties.”
Sedita was unavailable for comment Tuesday.