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Maziarz campaign asks ex-treasurer: What happened to campaign funds?

After George D. Maziarz shocked politicians across New York in 2014 by retiring from the State Senate, he quietly slipped from the Niagara County scene he had dominated for two decades.

But his departure raised key unanswered questions:

Why would a powerful senator who chaired the Energy Committee suddenly leave it all?

And what happened to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that remained unaccounted for in his campaign account?

Now, his own campaign committee is asking about the money, too, even though a knowledgeable source confirms the situation continues to draw the scrutiny of the state attorney general.

The Committee to Elect Maziarz State Senate, still sitting on $742,000, filed a civil proceeding this week against its former treasurer, Laureen M. Jacobs.

It seeks a court order forcing Jacobs to explain details of more than $200,000 in unreported expenditures from Maziarz’s political fund.

The proceeding demands that Jacobs explain a $120,000 cash shortfall in the account.

“I’m not making any accusations at this point,” said attorney Kevin A. Szanyi, who filed the suit on behalf of the Maziarz committee. “We’re trying to find out what happened to the money and why it was payable to those individuals and family members of individuals. I want to be very careful not to accuse anyone yet of any wrongdoing until we find out what the answers are.”

Maziarz referred all questions to Szanyi.

Szanyi said: “George Maziarz has, to my knowledge, done absolutely nothing wrong and very well may be a victim of something, sloppy accounting or improper conduct.”

No criminal charges have ever been filed in the case, though sources indicated that a federal grand jury in Manhattan was looking into the situation as was state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. Those sources now say the Attorney General’s Office has emerged in recent months as the main law enforcement agency probing the case.

Numerous checks were made out to “cash” from the campaign account and endorsed by Maziarz staffers, according to a forensic accounting report by the Freed Maxick accounting firm, which was included in the court papers. Some of the checks were made out to Jacobs and her husband and daughter; former chief of staff Alisa D. Colatarci-Reimann; former office manager Marcus D. Hall and his wife; and staff intern Andrew Norris. Other checks were directly made out to all of those individuals, according to an affidavit submitted by Timothy J. McPoland, managing director of Freed Maxick.

“It’s not a big deal,” said Terrence M. Connors, attorney for Jacobs. “But she has an obligation to answer this proceeding to explain the filings she has made.”

The report also contained evidence of tens of thousands of dollars of previously undocumented purchases with checks or debit cards from the Maziarz political fund, from stores ranging from Target and Sam’s Club to Barnes & Noble and Pier 1.

The purchases also included small amounts at grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and coffee shops, as well as “payments to various athletic and academic activities which appear to be related to children of Laureen Jacobs and Alisa Colatarci-Reimann.”

In a development that may or may not be related, records filed with the Niagara County Clerk’s Office show Jacobs and her husband sold their Wheatfield home Friday for $290,000.

McPoland wrote that, after examining the committee’s records and interviewing Maziarz, “it is not possible for us to determine the reason(s) for the expenditures, or who authorized the expenditures.”

Maziarz leaves Senate

Maziarz, of Newfane, had served 19 years in the State Senate when he exited his re-election race after nominating petitions already had been filed.

At the time, The Buffalo News reported that Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had taken an interest in Maziarz’s campaign finances. Maziarz at the time said: “I have nothing to hide.”

In April 2015, The News reported that former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek, a key member of Maziarz’s inner circle, testified about the situation before a federal grand jury in Manhattan. He was not considered a target in the probe. Since then, the probe appears to have shifted to the state attorney general.

Maziarz announced his retirement a couple of months after a published report indicated that, before Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission (the anti-corruption investigating panel he appointed), it had determined the senator reported more unitemized campaign expenditures than anyone else in the State Legislature.

But in January 2015, a State Police background check cleared Maziarz for an appointment to the state Economic Development Power Allocation Board. And on June 1 of this year, he became president of the Western New York branch of Patricia Lynch & Associates, one of Albany’s top lobbying firms.

Forensic report

The forensic report indicated $82,674 in previously undocumented checks on the campaign account, as well as $126,753 in debit card purchases at stores and businesses. It also showed Colatarci-Reimann received $24,134 in checks not previously reported on filings with the Board of Elections, plus $315 for use listed as “Alisa Colatarci – Kids.”

Jacobs received $3,255, plus $2,340 listed as “Laureen Jacobs – Kids,” while her husband Francis Jacobs received $2,150, according to the report.

Hall, another staffer, received checks totaling $6,933, and his wife, Heather Palmer, another $32.

Rodney O. Personius, Hall’s attorney, said Hall, as office manager, frequently would get checks from the campaign account to replenish petty cash or reimburse him for out-of-pocket expenses related to the office’s operations.

“There’s nothing nefarious about that. There’s nothing unusual about that,” said Personius. Personius said Hall and Colatarci-Reimann “fully cooperated with the investigation, and then this comes out. It raises questions about the motivation.”

David J. Haylett Jr., a Lockport attorney who once worked for Maziarz, received $11,050. He is now a deputy corporation counsel for the City of Lockport. Andrew Norris received $1,000, the Freed Maxick report says.

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com and tprohaska@buffnews.com

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