A Snyder, N.Y., man attempted to pressure former U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul to have her husband, Buffalo U.S. Attorney William Hochul, drop fraud charges against him by offering political support, according to the Justice Department.
James F. Lagona, 52, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice today in Buffalo federal court for engineering the scheme. Lagona had been found guilty of 27 counts of felony mail fraud on Feb. 23, 2011, in the Western District of New York and was facing sentencing on Dec. 3, 2012.
Four days before the Nov. 6 election, Lagona met with a Hochul (D-N.Y.) campaign staff member, claiming that he was a clergyman and that he had been in touch with the Republican party. He told the staffer that party leaders were hoping to feature him in an ad or rally to claim “wrongful persecution and religious persecution.” If U.S. Attorney Hochul dismissed the fraud case against him, Lagona promised he would publicly support Hochul in her bid for reelection. Hochul lost reelection to Republican Chris Collins.
A day later, the staffer met with Lagona again. But this time the staffer covertly recorded the meeting under the FBI’s supervision. Lagona said again he was seeking a “quid pro quo” arrangement.
An investigation later revealed that no member of the Republican party ever considered using Lagona’s testimony as part of the campaign.
Lagona now faces a maximum prison term of 10 years.
The case was prosecuted by J.P. Cooney, a Trial Attorney in the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, and investigated by Christopher M. Piehota, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Buffalo Division.