ALBANY – A judge this afternoon rejected George Maziarz's bid to toss out corruption case, leaving the onetime political powerhouse from Niagara County with an September 25 trial date in Albany on his calendar.
Judge Peter Lynch in Albany County, just hours after Maziarz and his lawyer left his courtroom following oral arguments on the dismissal request, dismissed claims by the former state senator that he is the subject of selective prosecution by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
"On its face, the claim fails,'' Lynch wrote in a three-page decision this afternoon.
"Other than a conclusory claim of 'pure politics,' the defendant failed to establish that there was no rational basis for the prosecution" by Schneiderman, the judge wrote.
E. Stewart Jones, a Troy-based lawyer for Maziarz, said the dismissal request was "an uphill climb.''
"I'm disappointed, but not surprised. The judge gave us a full and fair opportunity to present our arguments,'' Jones said.
The trial, originally set for August 21, is now scheduled for September 25 in Albany.
"We look forward to proving our felony corruption charges against Mr. Maziarz in court,'' a Schneiderman spokeswoman said.
"This means we gear up and go to trial,'' said Joseph LaTona, a Buffalo lawyer who is also representing Maziarz.
The former senator from Newfane has argued Schneiderman was “selective” while enforcing election laws and targeted Maziarz because he is a Republican.
“This was a politically driven decision,’’ Jones said of Schneiderman’s prosecution of Maziarz.
Schneiderman, a Democrat, has dismissed the claims and pointed to other Democratic politicians his office has prosecuted in corruption cases.
The judge agreed with the attorney general. Lynch said Maziarz's claim that his right to equal protection under the law has not been violated. Citing case law, he said the standard for a selective enforcement claim must prove that the law was being unequally applied to others and also "that the selective application of the law was deliberately based on an impermissible standard such as race, religion or some other arbitrary classification.''
The judge wrote that Maziarz failed to meet the "heavy burden of proof to establish a selective enforcement claim.'' The judge noted that Schneiderman had chosen to prosecute not only Maziarz but Sen. Rob Ortt on election law violation charges, and that there was no evidence that one of Maziarz aides "is similarly situated" as Maziarz.
The judge noted that a grand jury witness in the Maziarz investigation was prosecuted by Schneiderman's office. On the day the indictment against Maziarz was made public, Schneiderman's office announced that Henry F. Wojtaszek, the former Niagara County Republican chairman and one-time Maziarz confidant who now heads Western Regional Off Track Betting, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation.
"It is the decision and order of the court that the defendant's right to equal protection of the law has not been violated,'' the judge wrote Friday afternoon.
Maziarz was hoping his case would end in the same way as Schneiderman’s case against Ortt. Lynch previously dismissed the case against the North Tonawanda Republican and successor to Maziarz as senator of the 62nd Senate district.
The Maziarz legal team has said Schneiderman should investigate other individuals from the Maziarz campaign – campaign manager Alisa Colatarci-Riemann and treasurer Laureen Jacobs – over allegations involving possible financial wrongdoing with campaign money. Instead, Jones said, Schneiderman sought to get headlines by going after “a high-profile senator” while deciding to “let everyone else walk.’’
Gabriel Nugent, a Syracuse lawyer who represents Colatarci-Riemann, said the former Maziarz chief of staff has cooperated with state and federal investigators from the start of the Maziarz-related probe. "She has not been charged with a crime, because she has not committed one. George Maziarz should focus on himself, and stop blaming others for his situation. Alisa will not otherwise dignify untrue statements obviously designed for public consumption,'' Nugent said in a written statement.
The attorney general alleges Maziarz used a “pass-through scheme” that directed nearly $100,000 in payments from his Senate campaign account and the Niagara County Republican Committee to make “secret campaign payments” to a former Senate staffer who left the state payroll in the midst of a sexual harassment case.
Maziarz's lawyers have said Schneiderman failed to prosecute one or more individuals – once a part of the senator's campaign – who they say caused illegal campaign reports to be filed with the state elections board.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Baynes, a lawyer in Schneiderman's Public Integrity Bureau, in court Friday likened the Maziarz prosecution to law enforcement efforts against an illegal drug organization, saying “to build your case to target the person at the top of the organization is a rational decision.’’
In legal papers filed Thursday, lawyers for Maziarz noted that the state elections board referred concerns about financial activities in the ex-senator’s campaign account to Schneiderman’s office. The papers note that Colatarci-Reiman deposited nearly $18,000 from Maziarz’s fund into her personal checking account and the she got $62,000 that were not disclosed in the senator’s campaign filing with the state elections board.
The elections board found that Colatarci-Reiman and potentially others “had committed multiple offenses,’’ according to the Maziarz lawyer’s court filing.
“Enough has been established to prove that at least one other of the named individuals acted more egregiously than Mr. Maziarz,” the court paper stated.
And yet, "We have no information at this point in time that the Attorney General looked at anyone other than Senator Maziarz," Jones told the judge Friday.
In its own set of papers filed with the court, Schneiderman’s office dismissed Maziarz’s contention about selective prosecution and argued that it is following a longstanding concept of “prosecutorial discretion.’’ Moreover, the state’s lawyers have highlighted the scheme they say Maziarz participated in to try to hide payments to former staffer Glen Aronow.
"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.
In court Friday, Baynes said Colatarci-Reimann was “highly cooperative” with the state’s investigation. He did not elaborate.
“At the end of the day, you have a staffer who may have committed a crime, which we don’t believe we have a case to prove,’’ he told the judge.
While the elections board referred concerns about activities within Maziarz's campaign to Schneiderman's office, Baynes noted to the judge, "The state Board of Elections doesn’t task the Attorney General’s office with conducting investigations.’’
"Prosecutorial discretion is at the heart of the criminal justice system,’’ Baynes said.
Maziarz did not speak during the brief appearance by the lawyers before the judge, and he declined comment outside the courtroom.