A New York man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to attempting to pressure Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) four days before the November election to have her husband, U.S. Attorney William Hochul, drop a criminal case against him.
The Hochuls have not been accused of wrongdoing, and a Hochul campaign staffer reported the man to the FBI, according to a Justice Department news release.
The man, James F. Lagona, 52, admitted he met with the congresswoman’s campaign staffer on Nov. 2 to try to convince the campaign to have William Hochul’s office drop another case against him, according to the news release.
According to a criminal complaint filed in November, Lagona told the staffer he was a Catholic priest with the Western Rite Orthodox Church and was in discussions with the Republican Party about appearing in an advertisement for her opponent, Christopher Collins. Neither the complaint nor news release made it clear whether Lagona claimed to be working with state or local party officials, but authorities said there was no evidence the Republican Party and Collins knew about or were involved in the scheme. Collins eventually defeated the congresswoman.
The Hochul staffer, whose name was not released, contacted the FBI the same day, according to the complaint. During a second meeting on Nov. 3, which was recorded by the FBI, Lagona told the staffer he wanted a “quid pro quo” in exchange for supporting Hochul’s campaign, according to the complaint.
Kathy and William Hochul did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. Grant Loomis, a spokesman for Collins, said the congressman-elect had no comment.
The Buffalo News characterized Lagona as “a self-described Christian mystic, psychic, exorcist and bishop with the Western Rite Orthodox Catholic Church.” He allegedly ran a Ponzi scheme that cheated 90 victims, many of whom were retirees. Lagona was prosecuted by William Hochul’s office and found guilty of 27 counts of mail fraud on Feb. 23, 2011. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 3, 2012. That sentencing was delayed after Lagona’s arrest on the new charges.
DOJ said Lagona pleaded guilty on Tuesday in the latest case, but the plea documents were not yet available from the court. Lagona had been charged with one count of obstructing justice, according to the press release. Lagona is scheduled to be sentenced on March 20 and faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.