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Friday, May 8, 2009

Second Woman Accuses Cop of Sexual Bribery

Greece officer faces additional charges
The Democrat and Chronicle by Meaghan M. McDermott - May 6, 2009

A second woman has accused a Greece police officer of using his authority to coerce her into sex. Gary Pignato of Hilton was arraigned Tuesday on charges of third-degree bribery of a public servant, a felony; second-degree coercion, third-degree criminal trespass and official misconduct, all misdemeanors. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. Pignato goes to trial June 1 on an earlier felony count of accepting a bribe and misdemeanor counts of coercion and official misconduct stemming from allegations that he went to a Greece woman's home in August, then later coerced her into a sexual encounter. According to documents filed in Greece Town Court on Tuesday, a different woman accuses Pignato of similar acts. The woman's name was redacted in the documents and it is the Democrat and Chronicle's policy not to name victims of sexual crimes.

In a deposition dated April 28, the victim alleges she first met Pignato during the summer of 2005 when he followed her in his marked car as she drove into her apartment complex. She alleges he introduced himself that night, gave her his card and asked for her phone number. Then, she alleges, a few days later she was smoking marijuana at her dining room table when Pignato walked in unannounced, told her she could be arrested and lose her children for what she was doing and said "we can make this go away." She alleges Pignato said having sex with him "would take care of it." The victim alleges they made arrangements to meet the next night. She said she drove to his house in Hilton where they engaged in sex. She alleges Pignato continued to call her seeking sex over the next few days and finally stopped calling when she threatened to find his girlfriend and tell her what he did. In her statement, the victim said a friend convinced her to contact authorities after news broke about Pignato's other arrest and criminal charges. In the August case, the victim alleges Pignato visited her home during a domestic dispute, then threatened to arrest her for violating her probation if she didn't have sex with him.

Pignato has admitted to State Police that he had sex with that woman, but said it was consensual. His attorney, Scott M. Green, said he believes once a jury hears that case, Pignato will be acquitted. "When this maelstrom is finally over ... Gary will be vindicated." He said he did not know enough about the new allegations on Tuesday to comment. Pignato, who has been suspended without pay, turned himself in to State Police Tuesday afternoon. He was released from court on his own recognizance. A court date was set for June 17, but Assistant District Attorney William Gargan said the case could go to a grand jury. The charges against Pignato add to growing scandal in the Greece Police Department. In recent months, a former sergeant was convicted of multiple felonies in connection with a drug-fueled car crash, and a criminal investigation is ongoing into the department's handling of that case. Last month, Police Chief Merritt Rahn, Deputy Chief William Mackin and Sgt. Brian Ball were suspended with pay after they allegedly shredded documents following subpoenas related to that case. An independent investigator hired by town officials to probe the Greece Police Department in the wake of the scandals started work on April 27. His investigation is expected to last at least three months.

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