A veteran New York state judge killed himself less than two weeks after his home was raided by investigators, according to one of his attorneys.
John Michalski, an acting justice on the Erie County Supreme Court, died by suicide Tuesday at his Amherst home, where federal and state law enforcement officers had executed a search warrant 12 days earlier, the Buffalo News reported. He was 61.
“It’s heartbreaking,” defense attorney Terrence Connors told the newspaper. “He was such a good guy. This just didn’t have to happen.”
Michalski, who was appointed to the New York Court of Claims, and as an acting Supreme Court justice in 2006, had been eyed by investigators for years, but no criminal charges were ever filed against him. His looming legal woes seemed to be “manageable,” Connors told the newspaper.
The judge’s death came a little over a year after he was struck by a slow-moving freight train in Depew, in what was believed to be a suicide attempt. He suffered a serious leg injury, but survived.
Days after the February 2021 incident, Michalski was questioned by federal agents about his friendship with Peter Gerace Jr., the owner of a strip club in Cheektowaga and a former client, the Buffalo News reported.
Michalski was injured by the freight train on the same day Gerace was charged with several felonies, including drug and sex trafficking, as well as bribing a federal agent. Gerace denies the allegations, according to the newspaper.
Years earlier, Michalski was eyed by the feds as investigators probed Gerace and a retired Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Joseph Bongiovanni, in June 2019.
The DEA agent told investigators Gerace was pals with Michalski. Their friendship dates back two decades, attorney Anthony Lana, who was also representing the judge, told the Buffalo News.
Michalski wrote a letter to William Sketny, a federal judge in New York, in 2006 asking for leniency on behalf of Gerace, who was awaiting sentencing for a felony wire fraud conviction. He described Gerace as a client and a friend.
Sketny cut Gerace a slight break, giving him five months in prison when federal sentencing guidelines suggested anywhere from eight to 12 months, according to the newspaper.
FBI agents continued probing Michalski’s connection to Gerace following the train incident — and were seeking evidence of tax crimes during the March 24 raid at his home, two government sources told the Buffalo News.
Investigators seized documents connected to a small online business operated by Michalski’s wife, Susan, Lana told the Buffalo News.
Michalski’s caseload was transferred one day after the raid and no cases were to be assigned to him “until further notice,” according to the State Office of Courts Administration. He had returned to the bench in January after taking leave following the train incident.
The judge was also the subject of an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office connected to possible corruption, one source familiar with the matter told the New York Times. No charges had been filed against him in the inquiry, the newspaper reported.
Michalski is survived by his wife and four children.
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