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Pigeon defense questions validity of warrants, evidence in 2015 raid

File Photo/Derek Gee, Buffalo News (designated pool photographer)

In advance of a trial expected to begin in early 2017, lawyers for longtime political operative G. Steven Pigeon were in State Supreme Court on Monday, questioning the warrants executed to search Pigeon's home last year and some of the evidence collected.

Pigeon's condominium was raided by law enforcers in May 2015. Earlier this year, he was charged with bribery and extortion counts as part of a joint state and federal corruption probe.

Lead defense attorney Paul Cambria argued several motions before State Supreme Court Justice Donald Cerio, taking aim at the warrants issued to allow the search of Pigeon's home.

Among the issues to which Cambria took exception was the collection of electronic evidence from a cell phone and from a Google account registered to Pigeon. Both instances, he contends, extend beyond the limitations of what state authorities could search and seize.

"We raised some very unique issues and some of that is the result of the electronic age, if you will," said Cambria following the hearing. "Cell phones, computers and so on require special tools, special search warrant protocols and so on. We said those are absent here, and we think therefore that all that evidence should be suppressed."

Other issues raised include the validity of the warrants, which were altered when agents, according to Cambria, learned they were about to enter the wrong address. He questioned whether the warrants were properly updated for execution.

He also renewed an argument that Judge Michael Pietruszka, who signed the warrants, may not have been objective while doing so because he and Pigeon were political adversaries, stemming from a 1996 State Supreme Court race from which Pietruszka withdrew. It was reportedly done under pressure from Pigeon, who had just become the Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman.

Cambria also complained to Judge Cerio that the prosecution has yet to share required documents.

"We thought that a number of the issues we raised were very compelling and we hope that the judge finds that as well," Cambria said.

Prosecuting attorneys did not comment outside the courtroom.

Cerio, who was brought to Buffalo from the 6th Judicial District (near Oneida) to preside over Pigeon's case, vowed to issue his written decision in the near future.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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