Maziarz lawyers argue prosecutors ignored embezzlers of campaign fund - The Buffalo News

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Maziarz lawyers argue prosecutors ignored embezzlers of campaign fund

Lawyers for George D. Maziarz argued in an Albany courtroom Friday that corruption charges against the former Republican state senator should be dismissed because prosecutors singled  him out and ignored the people who embezzled campaign funds.

Following an earlier and unsuccessful dismissal motion based on claims of faulty grand jury proceedings, the new effort contends the Democratic state Attorney General’s Office has “selectively enforced” its case against Maziarz because he is a Republican. Defense attorneys also argued Maziarz never pocketed any money from his once-brimming campaign fund.

Attorney Joseph M. LaTona now seeks to gain the same results as State Sen. Robert G. Ortt of North Tonawanda, another Republican who last month saw related charges against him dismissed by Albany County Judge Peter Lynch, who also reviewed Friday’s arguments.

“The Attorney General’s Office has focused their prosecutorial power exclusively on a former Republican senator from Niagara County and a current Republican senator from Niagara County,” LaTona said in court papers. “This is so despite the fact that at least one other individual and perhaps more than one other individual also caused the filing of false financial disclosure forms with the state Board of Elections.

“Furthermore, the activities of that one individual and perhaps others is even more egregious than what is alleged against George Maziarz as the purpose of those false filings was to cover up the embezzlement of funds from the committee,” he added.

Unless Lynch rules in favor of Maziarz, a trial is slated to begin on Aug. 21 in Albany. Oral arguments on LaTona’s latest motion will be heard July 14.

Sources inside the Attorney General’s Office on Friday reiterated their consistent contention that recent corruption prosecutions have also snared several Democrats, including former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Steven Pigeon along with several associates, and former Sen. Shirley Huntley. They also note the new defense strategy emerges only after the failure of an earlier motion to dismiss, and that the Maziarz indictment resulted from a referral by the bipartisan Board of Elections.

“We look forward to proving our felony corruption charges against Mr. Maziarz in court next month,” was all Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick would say on Friday.

E. Stewart Jones, who represents Maziarz, amplified the selective prosecution argument outside the Albany courtroom on Friday. He did not deny to reporters that criminal activity occurred, but insisted the Maziarz campaign manager (Alisa Colatarci-Rieman) and the campaign treasurer (Laureen Jacobs) should be the target of Schneiderman.

He pointed to documents stemming from the original state Board of Elections referral to the attorney general that pointed to several others connected to the campaign.

“They did not identify the senator only, they wanted the entire operation to be looked at,” Jones said. “They were well aware that others within the campaign committee, unbeknownst to George, had actually embezzled from the campaign committee.”

He also said others abused credit cards and filed false campaign disclosure statements, and that LaTona provided investigators with a forensic audit that supported the Board of Elections conclusions more than a year and a half ago.

“Their target is erroneous,” Jones said. “They are not focusing on the right people. They’re going after someone who had absolutely no knowledge that any of this was going on and did not pocket one penny.

“Those who did, apparently, remain unscathed,” he added.

Jones also said politics is guiding the prosecution’s case.

“He was singled out because this had a political calculus and not a legal and factual calculus,” he said.

LaTona’s court papers contend that Maziarz’s own forensic audit presented to prosecutors indicated Colatarci-Rieman deposited almost $18,000 from the campaign committee into her personal banking account between 2012 and 2014, and that she had recently filed for bankruptcy.

“Despite that, the Attorney General’s Office has apparently granted Ms. Colatarci-Rieman de facto immunity from prosecution,” LaTona said.

But the attorney general has followed with his own arguments filed by Assistant Attorney General Christopher Baynes. The office bases its rebuttal on the time-honored concept of "prosecutorial discretion."

"There is no compelling reason to impinge upon the wide latitude reserved for the People in its decision to prosecute a particular case," Baynes wrote. "Similarly, the People have not violated the tenets of selective prosecution."

In addition, prosecutors say Maziarz should be held ultimately responsible because he knew that funds from his committee were being paid to former staffer Glen Aronow through other entities.

"Witness testimony proves that the defendant participated in the initial meeting wherein he and his 'kitchen cabinet' devised the scheme to pay Aronow and to hide those payments from the public," Baynes wrote.

The prosecution also maintains that any offense committed by Colatarci-Rieman is separate from the Maziarz case and that any other agency is free to lodge charges. Baynes also disputes that Colatarci-Rieman has been granted immunity, noting she did not testify before the special grand jury empaneled by the attorney general.

The attorney general alleges Maziarz used a “pass-through scheme” that directed money from his Senate campaign account and the Niagara County GOP to make “secret campaign payments” to a former Senate staffer who left the state payroll in the midst of a sexual harassment case.

The charges against Maziarz say he arranged for nearly $100,000 in payments to the former staffer that were hidden from public disclosure about the real recipient of the money in five separate campaign disclosure filings made with the state elections board.

Maziarz was indicted along with Ortt back in March on alleged election law violations.

Dan Clark of The News Albany bureau contributed to this report.

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