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.
Ironically, this cash flow started the day prior to the publishing of The 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 14, 2010. On January 13, two of the legal teams paid the first installment of over $15,300 to Kathy Hochul’s campaign fund. At the time, U.S. Attorney Hochul was finalizing court actions for two of the defendants in the drug ring.
The News was accurate in both its headline and its expectations that the defendants should be prosecuted aggressively. Their assumption was based on similar federal cases, typically resulted in prison terms, confiscated property, and fines.
A thorough review of cases prosecuted in that same time period by US Attorney Hochul shows that individuals who deal cocaine, store it in large quantities, and distribute it to lower level dealers receive harsh punishments which often 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. Accused of (and admitted) to obtaining, storing, dealing, and distributing kilo-quantities of cocaine to lower level dealers.
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.”
Drug ring defendant Keith Simmons claimed a number of times on FBI wiretaps that his group of lawyers was so strong and politically connected that he was untouchable. They will keep him and his friends out of prison, he thought.
Consistent with Simmons’s claim of legal and political protection, Tomasino and Catone received only two years probation and minor fines. They continued to own and operate their businesses, where well documented drug trafficking was based. Tomasino and Catone used their businesses to attract customers and to recruit new cocaine users, who are typically young adults.
Tomasino and Catone were predators who ran clubs and bars where vulnerable young folks congregate. These predators were not prosecuted to the fullest extent. They continued to run businesses implicated in their drug trade, a situation that 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 Congresswoman Hochul and her campaign. She collected these payments concurrent with her husband acting on their cases.
The following is a summary of those transactions:
- March 4, 2011: Kathy Hochul accepted $5,000 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 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. US Attorney Hochul’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 of US Attorney Hochul’s sentencing of Catone and Tomasino — 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 $1,500. The Anthony Lamarand final sentencing was in process and was 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 husband’s law firm, Phillips Lytle, paid Kathy Hochul’s campaign $1,500 on January 14, 2010, the day after sentencing was handed down by the US Attorney’s office.
- 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 only eight days prior to Lamarand’s indictment.
- July 10, 2010: Keith Simmon’s lawyer, Thomas H. Burton, donated $2,500 to the Hochul campaign, fifteen days after two of the three indictment charges were dropped for Lamarand. Lamarand is the key witness in the Simmons case, and Simmons is a key witness in the Lamarand case.
- March 14, 2011: Kathy Hochul’s campaign again accepted a $2,500 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 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 that over 30 such questionable contributions were made — seemingly to impact at least nine 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 News, where just two of payments associated with this case were revealed. Zremski at the time of the interview raised the question of whether an ethical breach existed, while barely scratching the surface of these numerous payments and cases impacted by their behavior.
Congresswoman Hochul and her Chief of Staff Dan Krupnick were interviewed separately in late August of 2011 regarding many of these questionable campaign contributions. During those interviews both Krupnick and Hochul claimed to know nothing of the details despite The News previously raising ethical concerns regarding at least two of these payments. Both Krupnick and Congresswoman Hochul claimed that there was a lack of coordination between herself and her husband.
Based on September 2011 campaign finance filing records, Congresswoman Hochul kept all but one of these contributions. Such contributions were used to assist her election and reelection efforts — greatly benefiting William Hochul through the pay and benefits his family received from Congresswoman Hochul’s resulting job. By October 2014, Kathy Hochul paid her and her family back a $250,000 loan that she took to run for Congress — from the same pool of campaign contributions.
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.
Mike Madigan is a member of the Grand Island School Board and is a former Republican Party nominee for United States Congress.