State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has subpoenaed central figures in George D. Maziarz’s political orbit in a probe of the former state senator and his campaign finances, according to four sources familiar with the situation.
Assemblyman Michael J. Norris, R-Lockport, confirmed Friday that he is among those directed to appear before an Albany County grand jury.
"I have been subpoenaed as a witness and it is not proper at this time to discuss the subject of the investigation,” he said.
It is expected that evidence, collected by the attorney general’s Office of Public Integrity, will be presented to the grand jury in a matter of weeks, the sources said.
Two sources say the assemblyman is not considered a target of the probe, which dates to just after Maziarz’s surprise decision in 2014 not to seek another term. One source said Schneiderman is now scrutinizing Maziarz’s campaign finance reports as well as those of the Niagara County Republican Committee that Norris once headed.
The source added that the attorney general’s effort concentrates not so much on the whereabouts of approximately $151,000 in missing campaign funds, but how campaign finance reports were submitted to the state Board of Elections.
“The attorney general’s investigation is solely on the financial disclosures,” the source said.
While Schneiderman intensifies his probe, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. inherits a separate effort from Democratic Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek. She withdrew from the case last month, citing a conflict because her husband ‑ former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek ‑ testified in late 2014 before a federal grand jury in Manhattan as part of a related investigation.
Flynn is looking at whether any of the missing money from the Maziarz campaign account was stolen.
The district attorney is “reviewing the matter and it has to do with the Maziarz campaign account,” Flynn’s spokeswoman, Joanna Pasceri said without adding further comment.
Maziarz’s attorney, Joseph M. LaTona, was unavailable for comment. Schneiderman’s office would not comment.
A new aspect of the case includes examination of the county GOP campaign records from the 2012 campaign cycle, when Norris served as chairman. Norris and Wojtaszek once constituted key members of Maziarz’s inner circle when he reigned as a political powerhouse in Niagara County and the State Senate. Norris was elected to the Assembly last November.
Henry Wojtaszek would not discuss his appearance before the grand jury convened by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in 2014. But The Buffalo News reported in 2015 that he was not considered a target.
For the first time, Norris also acknowledged appearing before the federal grand jury in Manhattan in late 2014, about the same time as Wojtaszek. But he said he testified only as a witness.
"It would not be proper to comment on grand jury proceedings,” he said.
One source said Norris is represented by attorney Joel L. Daniels, who also would not comment.
Another source interviewed for this story said Bharara decided not to pursue allegations of campaign records destruction ‑ a federal offense.
The case was then referred to Schneiderman, whose office signaled little movement in recent months. But the case appeared to revive last September, when the Committee to Elect Maziarz to State Senate, currently sitting on $684,000 in its coffers, filed a civil proceeding against its former treasurer, Laureen M. Jacobs.
The action sought a court order forcing Jacobs to explain details of unreported expenditures from the Maziarz political fund. Attorney Kevin A. Szanyi said at the time that he was trying to determine where the money went and why some was paid to certain people.
“George Maziarz has, to my knowledge, done absolutely nothing wrong and very well may be a victim of something, sloppy accounting or improper conduct,” Szanyi said then.
None of the attorneys representing former Maziarz staffers Jacobs, Alisa D. Colatarci-Reimann or Marcus R. Hall would offer comment. All have retained lawyers in connection with the investigation.
Since ending his 19-year run in the Senate, Maziarz has been active in the private sector. He now works as a lobbyist for Patricia Lynch and Associates, one of Albany’s top lobbying firms. Among the firm’s clients are the Niagara Falls Medical Center, Waste Management of New York, and the Western Region Off Track Betting Corp., according to state records.
The former senator appeared to have cleared legal hurdles in January of 2015 when, following a State Police background check, he was appointed to the New York State Economic Development Power Allocation Board. The panel makes recommendations to the Niagara Power Project, which assigns unused Niagara power each year for local economic development. Its five unpaid members serve five-year terms and designate the recipients of the power allocations.
But since then, Board of Elections reports indicate that Maziarz’s campaign account has paid thousands of dollars to lawyers and accountants on a regular basis. In this January’s report alone, Maziarz reported almost $47,000 in fees over a six-month period.
The former senator’s campaign spending first surfaced in May 2014 when City and State magazine reported that documents accumulated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s now-defunct Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption showed Maziarz led the state in unspecified campaign expenditures.
The campaign fund recorded $140,000 in unitemized expenditures between 2008 and 2013, according to City and State, and Moreland Commission documents indicated the money paid for everything from wine to a clown rental. The magazine also said the commission was probing campaign expenditures not explained on financial disclosure forms.
A statement from Maziarz’s office at the time said: “The Moreland Commission never asked me for any information, made any inquiries to my office or raised any issue with my campaign. We have followed all campaign laws, reported all expenditures and have always been very transparent.”
Shortly after Maziarz announced in 2014 that he would not seek re-election, The News reported that Alicia D. Colatarci, who resigned in July 2014 from her $82,000-a-year job as Maziarz chief of staff, had been subpoenaed in connection with the case.