Attorney general details charges against Ortt, Maziarz

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 March 2017 at 3:51 pm

ALBANY – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the unsealing of an indictment charging State Senator Robert Ortt with three felony counts of Filing a False Instrument in the First Degree. Ortt’s predecessor in the state senate, former State Senator George Maziarz, was also charged in the indictment with five felony counts of Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. All of the charges are Class E felonies.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years on each count. The case was referred to the Office of the Attorney General by the State Board of Elections.

Ortt and Maziarz each entered not guilty pleas. Ortt insisted he did nothing wrong during his arraignment. Maziarz, through his attorney, also denied any wrongdoing.

File photos by Tom Rivers: George Maziarz was popular in Orleans County during his nearly 20 years as state senator. He is pictured receiving a standing ovation during the Orleans County Republican Fall Rally on Oct. 24, 2014.

The 62nd Senate District includes Orleans County, as well as Nagara County, and the western portion of Monroe. Maziarz represented the district for 19 years before opting against re-election in 2014. Ortt succeeded Maziarz in the position.

According to the indictment and papers filed in court yesterday, Maziarz is alleged to have orchestrated a multilayered pass-through scheme that enabled him to use money from his own campaign committee, The Committee to Elect Maziarz State Senate, and also from the Niagara County Republican Committee, to funnel secret campaign payments to a former senate staffer who had left government service amid charges of sexual harassment.

According to court filings, the two committees paid the former government staff member $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 in 2013-2014. To conceal these payments—and to avoid public scrutiny of his decision to retain the former staffer for campaign-related work—Maziarz, acting with others, falsely reported the expenditures on five separate filings with the New York State Board of Elections as payments to pass-through entities, rather than to the staff member, in clear violation of New York State law, Schneiderman said.

The court filings and the indictment further allege that while serving as Mayor of North Tonawanda, Robert Ortt participated in an illegal scheme to pad his taxpayer-funded salary, the attorney general said.

Rob Ortt addresses the Orleans County Republicans during October 2014. He was elected to succeed Maziarz.

As papers filed with the court allege, in order to make up for a difference in salary that Ortt would be paid as Mayor (Ortt previously served as Town Clerk/Treasurer), Ortt and others devised a pass-through scheme to pay Ortt’s wife for a job for which she performed no actual work. Ortt’s wife received approximately $21,500 from 2010 to 2014 as part of the scheme, Schneiderman said said.

It is alleged that the payments to Ortt’s wife were falsely reported as payments to one of the same pass-through entities that was used to pay for the former senate staff member for Maziarz.

“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption. New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account,” Schneiderman said.

Ortt told reporters he would not resign and was innocent of the charges. He issued this statement:

“As someone who has fought in combat for his country, who has served his city as the mayor and who has served his state as a New York state senator, I am saddened and I am sickened at the ridiculous and baseless charges that have been put against me by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“I have no doubt the only reason I am involved in this case and was a part of this investigation is to make it more politically appealing to further Eric Schneiderman’s partisan agenda, which has been well-documented.

“My constituents in the 62nd district know me, they know what kind of person I am and they know what kind of public servant I have been. I am guilty of nothing. I will fight these charges. And I believe I will prevail.

“I want to thank all the folks who have reached out to me over the last 12 hours with their show of support. They have been many.

“I will fight these charges, I am guilty of nothing and I look forward to telling New Yorkers the truth about Eric Schneiderman and about myself.”

Schneiderman’s office issued a press release that included these comments:

“As we have seen too often in western New York, this case presents another instance when public officials served their own interests instead of those to whom they were positioned to serve,” said Adam S. Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office. “The defendants are alleged to have chosen greed over good and their behavior compromised the integrity of government.  It is the expectation of the public that government officials are not in their positions to self-deal.”

“Campaign finance disclosure ensures New Yorkers have confidence that their elected officials are serving them honestly and with transparency,” said Risa Sugarman, Chief Enforcement Counsel for the New York State Board of Elections. “The public has the right to know how their representatives spend the contributions they receive and that the disclosures are honest and accurate. We will continue to work together with the attorney general to assure New Yorkers that violations of the public trust do not go unpunished.”

Schneiderman also announced the guilty plea of Henry Wojtaszek, former Chairman of the Niagara County Republican Committee, a former attorney for the City of North Tonawanda, and the current president of the Western Region Off-Track Betting Corporation, based in Batavia. Wojtaszek pleaded guilty on Wednesday to violating Election Law Section 14-126-4, a class A misdemeanor, before Judge Gary F. Stiglemeier in Albany City Court.

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