Someone did a lot of shopping with money from George D. Maziarz’s campaign fund when he was a state senator.
The questions for investigators: Who and why?
Maziarz’s former campaign treasurer, Laureen M. Jacobs, revealed 751 previously unreported transactions dating back as far as 2009 and totaling more than $151,000.
Almost all of the purchases were made with a campaign debit card or Maziarz’s personal credit card, according to a New York State Board of Elections filing.
Someone with access to Maziarz’s campaign account shopped frequently using the debit card at stores like Target, Best Buy and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
The largest debit was a $5,552 purchase at the Amherst Best Buy store in November 2011, listed on the form as “office.”
Items were bought at other stores, too, including Barnes & Noble, Pier One, Michaels Crafts, A.C. Moore, Christmas Tree Shops, RadioShack, Wegmans, Rite Aid and Walgreens. Online purchases showed up, too.
The cards paid for small purchases at gas stations and restaurants in Niagara County and northern Erie County between 2009 and 2013.
Meanwhile, Maziarz’s personal charge card was used 158 times during the period, on items ranging from hotel bills in Albany and Manhattan to restaurant tabs at Big Apple steakhouses.
Maziarz’s credit card was used for a rental car in Florida and someone’s monthly DirecTV bill.
The purchases will be reviewed by investigators for the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, which agreed to probe whether money was stolen from the Maziarz campaign fund.
Whether the spending is illegal depends on what the purchases were used for, said Thomas E. Connolly, spokesman for the state elections board.
“If I were running for office and I wanted to get a whole bunch of flyers printed up at Staples, and I used my personal credit card, could I pay myself back from campaign funds? The answer would be yes,” Connolly said.
“If I took myself and my family to Disney World and have a big credit card bill and want to use my campaign funds to wipe out that credit card debt, that obviously would not be OK,” Connolly said. “It depends on what it’s for. It’s somewhat unusual that you would have a filing that just says, ‘$800 paid to Amex for my credit card.’ ”
In 13 payments, totaling nearly $27,000, campaign funds went to Chase Bank. Many of the payments had been previously reported as office expenses when Jacobs filed the original disclosure forms for 2010, 2012 and 2013.
In her amendments, those payments are reclassified and are now listed as “George Maziarz personal credit card.”
Just before Christmas, State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour gave Jacobs 30 days to produce the details connected to the unitemized transactions. Justice Daniel J. Furlong, who took over the case after Jan. 1, later gave Jacobs an extension to Feb. 6.
On that date, Jacobs emailed the details to the elections board.
Joseph M. LaTona, Maziarz’s attorney, declined to comment because of the pending criminal investigation.
Jacobs, Maziarz’s volunteer campaign treasurer for 21 years, resigned last summer, but not before filing amendments to three Maziarz financial disclosure forms, listing $151,370 in unitemized spending.
Kevin A. Szanyi, attorney for the Maziarz campaign committee, went to court seeking to compel Jacobs to present details of the newly disclosed spending, added to forms originally filed in December 2010, January 2012 and July 2013.
Attached to the court filing is a forensic accounting report by Timothy J. McPoland, managing director of the Freed Maxick accounting firm, which alleged that campaign money was spent at a wide range of local stores and on personal expenses of staffers.
The original forms showed repeated payments of $500 or less to Alisa D. Colatarci-Reimann, Maziarz’s former chief of staff; Marcus R. Hall, his former office manager; and other Maziarz staffers. These were listed as petty cash or reimbursements for expenses.
Colatarci-Reimann and Hall resigned about the same time Maziarz announced in July 2014 that he would not run for re-election that year, although he had already filed his nominating petitions to run for what would have been his 11th term.
They were subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury probing Maziarz’s campaign spending, The Buffalo News reported in 2014. No charges ever resulted from that investigation.
It is unknown who used the debit card for the hundreds of newly reported transactions.
The total amount of spending reported on the three forms hasn’t changed, but the details are new, with the expenses previously called “unitemized” broken down into the individual transactions.
“It was a combination of better access to the records and working through and correcting certain computer issues that arose in connection with the filings in Albany,” said Terrence M. Connors, Jacobs’ attorney. “She just recently received all the backup information that allowed her to file the amended returns.”
Jacobs obtained the data from a variety of sources, including the stores, he said.
“The treasurer’s supposed to be following the rules,” Connolly said. “The money should only be used for a lawful purpose, which is what the phrase is in the statute.
The treasurer is also supposed to keep any additional documentation so they can answer questions should something come up.”
The new filings list 158 uses of Maziarz’s personal credit card dating back to 2009.
The card was used to pay a $6,389 bill for a June 2011 fundraiser at the Penn Club in midtown Manhattan. There was a $496 meal on that trip at Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse in Manhattan. In November 2011, there was a $3,328 charge for another Penn Club fundraiser, and a $412 bill at Morton’s Steakhouse on Fifth Avenue.
There is no indication which of the Maziarz credit card transactions might have been personal and which were political or office-related expenses for which he was reimbursed.