An Albany County grand jury heard testimony Thursday from at least one key witness in a widening probe of former State Sen. George D. Maziarz and his campaign finances that now also involves former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
Assemblyman Michael J. Norris, R-Lockport, answered a subpoena he received last week and testified before the grand jury on Thursday, according to attorney Joel L. Daniels.
“Mike Norris is not a target,” Daniels said, explaining that the assemblyman automatically receives immunity for grand jury testimony.
The sources, who asked not to be identified, say the investigation spearheaded by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman centers on whether money from the campaign accounts of Maziarz and the Niagara County Republican Committee was funneled to a third person through contractors working for the party.
Three sources say investigators now seek information about any funds potentially received by Glenn S. Aronow, a former Niagara County legislator who once worked for Maziarz.
The sources add that Aronow is not considered a target, but that state prosecutors are trying to determine if laws were broken in how campaign funds may have been funneled. Aronow was accused of making unwelcome and crude comments to a Lancaster woman while employed by the State Senate Majority Office beginning in 2007. The state paid $90,000 to the administrative assistant to settle the case in 2012.
One source familiar with the case said Wojtaszek was offered a plea deal to testify before the grand jury. The source said no decision has been made on the attorney general’s offer, mainly because Wojtaszek contends that he had nothing to do with the 2012 and 2013 campaign finance reports under scrutiny because he left the party chairmanship in 2009.
An election law attorney with long ties to the Republican Senate and who advised Wojtaszek in the past said Thursday that tying a former chairman to campaign finance reports several years after leaving headquarters “at best, sounds to me a bit of stretch.”
“I am not aware of any past prosecution by state or local prosecutors that would encompass those facts,” said John Ciampoli, a Long Island attorney with more than 30 years of election law experience.
Another source noted, however, that the state’s questions center on whether the former chairman may have been involved in arranging payments to a subcontractor. All sources say that Maziarz and his campaign fund remain the main objects of Schneiderman’s investigation.
Joseph M. LaTona, Maziarz’s attorney, declined comment, as did the Attorney General’s Office.
The case includes another twist because it tangentially involves Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek, who is married to Henry Wojtaszek, now president of Western Regional Off Track Betting.
She withdrew from the case last month, citing a conflict stemming from her husband’s late 2014 testimony in the same case. The Buffalo News reported in 2015 that Henry Wojtaszek had appeared before a federal grand jury in Manhattan convened by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as part of a related investigation.
Caroline Wojtaszek’s office had been investigating $151,000 missing from Maziarz's campaign funds. Shortly after taking office early this year, she transferred the case of the missing funds to Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. That case is separate from the attorney general’s probe that centers on the legality of the campaign finance reports.
A Flynn spokeswoman said last week that the district attorney “is reviewing the matter and it has to do with the Maziarz campaign account.”
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, with $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.
After ending his 19-year run in the Senate in 2014, Maziarz now works 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 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.
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.”