By: Mike Madigan
The headline in The Buffalo News on January 14, 2010 stated, “Feds Bring down Hammer on Wheatfield Drug Ring”. Unknown to the paper, the only thing that actually was about to be hammered was the integrity of the U.S. justice system. Cash flowed from four of the primary defendant’s legal teams, who were involved in this case; and it flowed directly into the campaign account of U.S. Attorney Hochuls’ wife, Congresswoman Kathy Hochul. The defendants detailed in the article bought the hammer off instead. See the original Buffalo News article here: http://www.buffalonews.com/incoming/article29952.ece (archived)
Ironically this cash flow started the day prior to the publishing of the Buffalo News article, which reported major actions taken in the case, by U.S. Attorney Hochul, on that same day. The news article was written on January 14th 2010. On January 13th, two of the legal teams paid the first installment of over $15,300, to Kathy Hochul’s campaign fund. At that time, U.S. Attorney Hochul was finalizing the court actions for two of the defendants in this drug ring.
The Buffalo News was accurate in both its headline and its expectations that the defendants should be hammered by the Feds. Their assumption was based on similar Federal cases, which were historically prosecuted resulting typically in prison terms, confiscated property and fines.
A thorough review of cases prosecuted in that same time period by US Attorney Hochul, shows that, without exception, individuals who deal cocaine, store it in large quantities, and distribute it to lower level dealers, (as in this case) receive harsh punishment, which include prison terms, fines and confiscation of involved property.
Case details for two of the three defendants Stephen Catone, 41, of Wheatfield ,and Joseph Tomasino, 45, of North Tonawanda, showed that the two were accused of, and admitted to obtaining, storing, dealing and distributing kilo quantities of cocaine, to lower level dealers; and allowed their businesses to be used for this purpose. No details could be found on the third defendant featured in the article.
It was reported in the FBI press release that Catone’s and Tomasino’s charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison, a fine of $4,000,000 and forfeiture of their businesses. See FBI Press release http://www.fbi.gov/buffalo/press-releases/2010/bffo011410.htm
The Niagara Gazette reported that FBI agent, Corey Nelson, stated after the arrests “The hard work of our investigation has paid off, and now we will let the courts do their part.”However, drug ring defendant Keith Simmons, claimed a number of times on FBI wiretaps, that his group of lawyers is too strong and politically connected, he is untouchable, and they will keep him and his friends out of prison.
Consistent with Simmons’s claim of legal and political protection , Tomasino and Catone, shockingly received only two years probation and minor fines; and continued to own and operate the businesses, from which, well documented major drug trafficking was based. It must be noted as well, that Tomasino and Catone used their businesses to attract customers and to corrupt new potential cocaine users, which were typically young adults.
Tomasino and Catone were predators who ran businesses (clubs and bars where vulnerable young folks congregate and can be recruited) which are essential to the operations of such drug rings. The fact that these predators were not prosecuted to the fullest extent, and were not only allowed to retain, but continue to freely run these businesses, is very disturbing, and can’t be readily justified, based on the review of historical data for similar and lesser cases.
In addition to the legal teams of Catone and Tomasino, the legal teams of Defendants Keith Simmons, 33, of North Tonawanda, and Anthony Lamarand, 31, of North Tonawanda made similar payments to Kathy Hochul and her campaign, which collected these payments concurrent with her husband’s acting on their cases. The following is a summary of those transactions:
- March 4, 2011: Kathy Hochul accepted $5000 from Anthony Lamarand’s lawyer, Dennis C. Gaughan, on the same day that her husband petitioned to delay Lamarand’s sentencing for several months.
- January 13, 2010: Kathy Hochul received $750 from Dennis C. Gaughan, the lawyer for Anthony Lamarand. This payment was received 1 day prior to U.S. Attorney Hochul’s acting on the Grand Jury indictments of Catone and Tomasino, who were part of the same drug ring and also key witnesses in the pending Lamarand indictment and sentencing.
- June 25, 2010: Kathy Hochul received $500 from Lamarand’s lawyer, Dennis Gaughan, the day after Lamarand pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiring to distribute cocaine. Hochul’s husband’s office agreed to drop two other major felony counts against this allegedly violent criminal.
- February 11, 2011 Kathy Hochul received $100 from Dennis C. Gaughan, the lawyer for Anthony Lamarand. This payment was within days ofS. Attorney Hochul’s sentencing of Catone and Tomasino, who were part of the same drug ring and also key witnesses in the pending Lamarand indictment and sentencing.
- May19, 2011. Mary Rose Gaughan, wife of Dennis Gaughan, paid Kathy Hochul’s campaign $1500. The Anthony Lamarand final sentencing was in process, and is due imminently.
- January 13, 2010: Kathy Hochul received payment of $500 from the law firm of Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria LLP, the law firm representing Joseph Tomasino, who was a key Lamarand case witness. Tomasino’s and Catone’s indictment was handed down by William Hochul’s office on January 14th 2010, the next day.
- January 13, 2010 Catone’s lawyer’s (Amy Martoche) Husbands’ law firm Phillips Lytle paid Kathy Hochul’s campaign $1500. Catone’s indictment was handed down by William Hochul’s office on January 14th 2010, the next day.
- June 16, 2010: Connors Vilardo LLP, Stephan Catone’s legal team (primarily consisting of Amy Martoche) , paid Kathy Hochul’s campaign $250. Catone is a key witness in both the Lamarand and Simmons case. Catone’s plea bargain and sentencing were still in process with the US Attorney’s office, and this occurred 8 days prior to Lamarand’s indictment.
- July 10, 2010: Keith Simmon’s lawyer, Thomas H. Burton, donated $2500 to the Hochul campaign, 15 days after 2 of the three indictment charges were dropped for Lamarand. Lamarand is the key potential witness in the Simmons case, and Simmons is a key potential witness in the Lamarand case.
- March 14, 2011: Kathy Hochul’s campaign, once again, accepted a $2500 payment from the law firm of Thomas H. Burton, the firm representing Keith Simmons. Simmons’ final sentencing was in process.
- April 1, 2011: Kathy Hochul again accepted $500 from Catone’s legal team (Amy Martoche was Catone’s primary lawyer) of Connors Vilardo LLP, the law firm that represented Stephan Catone, a key witness in the Lamarand case..
This pattern of payments is not unique to this particular case for the Hochuls. Review of campaign finance records from 2009 through 2012; show over 30 such questionable contributions, impacting at least 9 different cases.
These payments, in close proximity to major cases acted on by the U.S. Attorney, suggest that the U.S. Justice system may have been compromised by these actions.
Both William Hochul and Kathy Hochul are fully aware of these serious concerns as a result of a May 9, 2011 interview by Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News where just two of these multiple payments were revealed associated with this case. Zremski at the timee of the interview raised the question of whether an ethical breach existed while only minimally scratching the surface of the numerous payments and cases impacted by their behavior.
Just 10 days after Zremski’s article was published defendant Lamarand’s lawyer’s wife paid $1500 to Kathy Hochul who remarkably accepted this payment http://www.buffalonews.com/topics/chris-lee/special-election/article417452.ece
Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and her Chief of staff Dan Krupnick were interviewed separately in late August of 2011 regarding many of these questionable campaign contributions. During the interviews, both Krupnick and Congresswoman Hochul claimed ignorance of the details even though The News had previously raised ethical concerns regarding at least two of these payments. Furthermore, both Krupnick and Congresswoman Hochul claimed that there was a lack of coordination between herself and her husband, which they claimed justified acceptance of these funds. During my interview both Krupnick and Congresswoman Hochul committed to reviewing the cases and contributions for conflicts.
Based on the September 2011 campaign finance filing records, Congresswoman Hochul did not return most of these corrupt funds; the one exception being a $500 donation by Lawyer Terrance Connors. It should be noted that such contributions that were used to assist Congresswoman Hochul get elected has greatly benefitted William Hochul through the pay and benefits his family received from Congresswoman Hochul’s resulting job (Oct 2014 update: Kathy Hochul paid her and her family back a $250,000 loan that she took out to run for congress from these same funds – corrupt funds).
In order to re-establish the integrity of the U.S. justice system, U.S. Attorney Hochul must recuse himself from all cases where similar transactions transpired and he must be placed on leave until this matter is fully investigated and resolved. Kathy Hochul must return all funds involved and an investigation must be initiated.
Wheatfield drug case link: http://bitterqueen.typepad.com/files/criminal-complaint-part-i.pdf