By now, nearly everyone knows what former state Sen. George D. Maziarz was trying to hide.
It was 2013 and Maziarz, in the midst of a re-election effort, wanted his campaign to hire a former Senate staffer accused of sexual harassment – but to keep the hiring secret.
The question now is whether the former Niagara County Republican powerhouse broke the law in doing what he did.
Out of office since his surprise retirement three years ago, Maziarz will appear in an Albany courtroom Thursday to argue that what he's accused of doing — he's charged in a five-count indictment — is really no crime at all.
Prosecutors are expected to counter that Maziarz's crime is real, and that the efforts to dismiss the charges against him only fuel public cynicism over New York's political system.
At the heart of Maziarz's legal challenge are internal emails from the New York State Board of Elections expressing doubt about the seriousness of his offense. An email from one lawyer backing the indictment said, "Well, the good thing is we do not have to convince you. " Another attorney raising questions about the indictment countered, "in a way you have to convince me."
Maziarz's lawyers say the emails prove he was singled out by overly zealous elections officials.
"Given the confusion, lack of consistency and apparent political motivation behind his being targeted, it is submitted that no valid purpose would ever be served by imposing a sentence upon Mr. Maziarz," his lawyers said in court papers filed last week.
Maziarz's efforts to dismiss the case are being led by attorneys Joseph M. LaTona of Buffalo and E. Stewart Jones of Troy.
Lawyers for Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman claim the emails are evidence of an internal debate, nothing more, nothing less, and that the allegations against the former senator are serious enough to warrant criminal charges.
"This case involves the abuse of New York's campaign disclosure laws to deceive the public as to payments made to an accused sexual harasser," Christopher Baynes, an assistant attorney general, said in court papers.
From the day the indictment was announced, state officials accused Maziarz and other Niagara County Republicans of conspiring to hide the source of campaign money paid to former Senate staffer Glenn S. Aronow.
The indictment against Maziarz claims he orchestrated a "multilayered pass-through scheme" that allowed him to funnel money to Aronow from his campaign committee and the Niagara County Republican Committee, and then falsely report the expenses on five separate filings with the Board of Elections.
Lawyers for the state said the desire for secrecy stemmed from a Lancaster woman’s accusations that Aronow, a former Niagara County legislator, made unwelcome and crude comments when they both worked in the State Senate majority office in 2007. The state paid a $90,000 settlement to the woman.
"A dismissal of this case would contribute to the widespread cynicism about New York's political culture," Baynes said in his response to Maziarz's motion.
In his court papers, Baynes pointed to a previous election law violation by Maziarz's campaign to suggest it has a history of breaking the law. The campaign was found guilty in 1993 in Lockport City Court of failing to disclose a contribution and was fined $500.
Latona and Jones claim it was Maziarz's "kitchen cabinet," not the senator himself, that hatched the plan to pay Aronow. They list Aronow, Assemblyman Michael J. Norris and former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek as members of the cabinet.
If the Maziarz case goes to trial, all three men are expected to testify. Some of them have already appeared before the Albany County grand jury that indicted Maziarz.
When the former senator appears Thursday before Albany County Judge Peter A. Lynch, his lawyers will argue that several of Maziarz's aides took responsibility for handling his campaign disclosure reports and that their statements should have been disclosed to the grand jury but weren't.
For that reason, they claim the process leading up to the indictment was flawed.
"The prosecution deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence which might well have prompted the grand jury not to return an indictment against Mr. Maziarz," they said in court papers.
When Maziarz was indicted, Schneiderman also charged Robert G. Ortt, Maziarz's Senate successor. The allegations against Ortt stemmed from alleged payments to his wife, but Lynch later dismissed those charges.
Wojtaszek, president of Western Region Off Track Betting, also was implicated and eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation in connection with the case.
Maziarz's trial, previously scheduled for February, was recently moved to March 2.