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Lawyer erred in billing for call with GOP chief, Joerg says

Niagara County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said Wednesday that a Buffalo attorney's bill charging the county for a strategy conference with county Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek was erroneous.

Joerg said Michael B. Powers of Phillips Lytle, the firm hired to handle the county's lawsuit against the City of Niagara Falls for 75 percent of the local share of revenue from Seneca Niagara Casino, told him he was not discussing settlement strategy with Wojtaszek, as the bill says he did July 5.

Joerg quoted Powers as saying, "I put down the improper words. I should have put down, 'trying to get information for the [July 15] settlement conference. "

"I think this is all just spin," said County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls. "After the fact, they're trying to cover their tracks. It's all Henry's and George Maziarz's doing, and the records prove it. They got caught."

Tuesday, Virtuoso made political hay during a meeting of the County Legislature by detailing that, of the $53,667 billed by Phillips Lytle to the county, more than $3,400 allegedly involved conversations with Wojtaszek and State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.

Joerg said Wojtaszek became involved in the last week of June, when Powers was trying to meet a July 1 deadline to submit court papers, including affidavits by Legislature Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda, and Maziarz.

Joerg said the county was seeking a state study of how much the casino had cost Niagara Falls, but could not obtain it. He said Powers decided to call Wojtaszek, hoping his political influence could shake a copy loose.

"I called the governor's office," Wojtaszek said, but the report did not arrive until early August, two weeks after the case was argued.

Wojtaszek said, "I remember talking to Mike Powers about this." He said he was not involved in settlement talks.

Powers did not return calls seeking comment; his secretary referred questions to Joerg. Joerg said he does not want Powers to talk with the media because "it would mess up my attorney-client privilege."

Needler said he talked with Powers on Wednesday.

"He says he never talked to Henry about a settlement," Needler said. "I would be livid if something like that happened."

Needler disclosed that Powers and his colleague, Preston L. Zarlock, also billed for a July 20 meeting with Wojtaszek. That brings to four the number of mentions of Wojtaszek on the Phillips Lytle bills.

Joerg said Zarlock merely ran into Wojtaszek after oral arguments in the lawsuit that day.

"That didn't cost the county any money," Joerg said.

Virtuoso said, "They're not telling the truth. They were meeting that morning in Jimmy Roscetti's office across the street from City Hall, where I work: Henry Wojtaszek, Joerg -- all of them. I saw them come out."

James C. Roscetti is the attorney for the Niagara Falls School District. That day, the district joined the lawsuit on the county's side in an effort to guarantee that it would receive casino money, too.

Wojtaszek said he was in court for the July 20 argument because he had another case on the calendar that day. He said he has met with Roscetti before, but not July 20.

"On that day, I came from somewhere else," Wojtaszek said, "so that wouldn't have been accurate."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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