Erie County DA declines to charge Maziarz staffers

George Maziarz

Former state Sen. George Maziarz went on the offensive against his former protege Henry Wojtaszek on Thursday, sending a series of letters to various state and federal authorities in which he questioned whether Wojtaszek and his wife — Niagara County District attorney and judicial candidate Caroline Wojtaszek —are getting special treatment under a system of justice that offers a different standard for the "wealthy, the politically connected and white." 

Copies of his letter regarding the Wojtaszeks were sent to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the Buffalo office of the FBI, Eighth Judicial District Administrative Judge Paula Feroleto, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and New York State Police Superintendent Keith Corlett. Copies were also provided to the newspaper. 

The letter notes that the FBI has undertaken a review of the actions of officials at Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp. where Henry Wojtaszek serves as president and CEO while referencing Wojtaszek and other OTB officials "treating high-roller skybox seats as perks for themselves and their families." The letter questions the handling of Wojtaszek's OTB-funded vehicle and cell phone as well as the public benefit corporation's continued practice of granting health insurance coverage to board members, despite a legal opinions and a ruling from the state comptroller's office telling OTB representatives that the practice should be stopped. 

Buffalo-based news outlet Investigative Post and this newspaper have previously reported that OTB is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation involving contract awards, access to lavish health insurance packages for board members and the distribution by the public benefit corporation of tickets to Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres games.

"As of yet, however, none of the bad actors involved in the misuse of these resources — resources, incidentally, owned by the taxpayers of OTB’s municipal owners — has been indicted, despite an overwhelmingly clear case against OTB leadership," Maziarz wrote. "One must assess the abuses of these resources, conservatively, to be in the multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars, and likely in the millions of dollars in multi-year aggregate."

Henry Wojtaszek, in an email from OTB spokesperson Ryan Hasaneur, issued the following statement in response to Maziarz's claims: 

"As a public benefit corporation, employing over 450 hard-working western New Yorkers, we are focused on our reopening efforts," he said. "We will no longer comment on anything George Maziarz says or does as his accusations are factually wrong and his opinions are irrelevant."

Caroline Wojtaszek did not respond to a request for comment.

In his letter, Maziarz, drawing on racial tensions in America in the wake of the death of George Floyd, references a 2016 FBI investigation that resulted in a guilty plea to federal corruption charges by former Niagara Falls Housing Authority Director Stephanie Cowart, who is African American. Maziarz noted that Cowart was relieved of her duties after pleading guilty in a case in which she was accused of misusing $17,000 in taxpayer funds to pay two family members for what prosecutors contended were "no-show" jobs.

"While no one faults the FBI for investigating the abuse of taxpayer funds, the scale of the crime committed by Ms. Cowart— which she admitted to and pled guilty to in a federal courtroom — pales in comparison to the fraudulent activities of Western Region OTB and Henry Wojtaszek," Maziarz wrote. "Aside from the scale of the crime being committed, the principle difference one must note between the two cases is that the matter that was adjudicated involved a Black female, while the unresolved OTB matter involves, primarily, wealthy white males. Surely, you can see that there is an appearance of gross disparity in the application of justice in these two cases."

Maziarz also draws attention to an ongoing case brought by Caroline Wojtaszek as district attorney involving Jeffrey Stowell, the Town of Pendleton highway supervisor who was indicted on charges of grand larceny and petty larceny as well as official misconduct after an investigation determined that he stole town property and had town employees work on his personal property.

"While Mr. Stowell must be held to account for any actions injurious to the taxpayers, it is the height of irony that the individual overseeing his prosecution —District Attorney Caroline Wojtaszek — is married to a man at the center of a scandal involving potentially millions of dollars in taxpayer funds," Maziarz wrote.

Maziarz also restated his longstanding claim that the Wojtaszeks "misused" OTB resources by attending sporting events using tickets and access to luxury suites at area venues that were funded by the public benefit corporation itself.  

Maziarz contends that as an elected official, Caroline Wojtaszek is barred by state and county ethics rules from accepting gifts like tickets to sporting events if the value exceeds allowable limits under current ethics rules. He notes that, to date, neither Henry nor Caroline Wojtaszek has publicly answered one of his lingering questions: “Did they personally use sporting event tickets or gain access to luxury suites at area sporting events that were paid for by OTB?”

Neither Wojtaszek has answered direct questions from this newspaper and other media outlets as to whether they attended Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres games at OTB's expense. 

"Even more troubling, multiple media outlets have asked Caroline Wojtaszek if she, herself, misused WROTB skybox and events tickets, and she has refused to answer. Again, it is apparent that in Niagara County, there are two justice systems: one for the powerful and connected, and one for the powerless and common," Maziarz wrote. 

Maziarz was for many years closely aligned with Henry Wojtaszek, who formerly served as chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party. The two had a falling out after Wojtaszek testified against him in a public corruption case that resulted in Maziarz pleading guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation of filing a false campaign finance report with the New York State Board of Elections. The guilty plea followed an investigation by the New York State Attorney General's Office into allegations that Maziarz and his associates made hidden payments using campaign funds to compensate former state senate aide Glenn Aronow who had previously been accused of sexual harassment in a case that ended with a state-funded settlement for the accuser. 

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