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Town court computers seized in investigation; Video leak probed in Cheektowaga

Several computers have been seized from Cheektowaga Town Court by Cheektowaga police officers at the direction of town officials in an apparent effort to get to the bottom of the leak of an internal surveillance video to The Buffalo News, multiple sources told The News Friday.

The impetus for the ordered seizure of the computers, according to sources, apparently was an Oct. 9 story published in The News about likely incoming Town Justice Paul S. Piotrowski's seemingly unwanted overtures to a court employee while he was town prosecutor.

Cheektowaga officials aren't saying much publicly, but the confiscation of the computers has generated significant buzz in the court building, police department and around Town Hall.

Town Justice Dennis Delano and his court administrator, Stephanie Lewandowski, both had their computers seized, as did a security officer at the court.

Delano said someone entered his private chambers on Oct. 17, took his computer and replaced it with another one. He said two uniformed police officers also showed up at his house with a letter from the town demanding he turn in his laptop computer.

He still isn't sure why.

"We've been trying to get some answers for two weeks, and we haven't gotten them," Delano told The News late Friday. "It's so outrageous."

What is known is that Cheektowaga officers, at the direction of Supervisor Mary F. Holtz and Town Attorney Kevin G. Schenk, seized the computers from offices in Town Court during the week of Oct. 17.

Included were the computers of court staff members and at least one of the town's justices, sources told The News.

"It's a confidential personnel matter we're investigating," Schenk said. "I can't really go into detail about it."

Authorities with the state Office of Court Administration are working with town officials on the matter, Schenk said. He described the matter as "not a criminal matter," but rather a violation of town policy.

Delano said he's unsure whether any other computers in the town court were also taken.

"Right now, I feel the security of the court has been breached in such a way that everyone who has been through the system and works in the system is now out in the cold," he added.

The computers were secured, according to a Cheektowaga police report and are now being forensicly evaluated.

The Feb. 25, 2010, incident captured on a court security camera shows Piotrowski, 58, putting his arm around the clerk, Constance Chojnacki, and then bending to one knee, kissing her hand before later embracing her as she smiles, but attempts to get away.

Chojnacki, 42, later told her boss, Lewandowski, about the incident, said she felt "uncomfortable" in Piotrowski's presence and asked for a review of the images. That led to Lewandowski compiling an internal summary. After viewing the images, she concluded in the summary that Piotrowski had made "several advances" toward Chojnacki.

According to the town's records, Chojnacki decided to handle the matter herself by speaking to Piotrowski.

According to Lewandowski's summary, Chojnacki told Piotrowski: "No, seriously, you need to stop, it is unwanted." Piotrowski responded to Chojnacki at that time: "It is harmless," but then said, "OK."

Piotrowski later told The News he was "just playing with a friend. And just showing chivalry."

Lewandowski closed her summary by writing: "No further incident. Normal business continued without issue." The issue remained in-house for more than a year.

In late April, Piotrowski stepped down as town prosecutor to run for town justice and then swept 23-year veteran Justice Thomas S. Kolbert on five separate lines in the September primary. Piotrowski's victories wiped Kolbert's name off the ballot for the general election, virtually assuring Piotrowski's spot on the bench.

The video, which had remained dormant since just after the incident, resurfaced in the weeks after Piotrowski's primary victory and was turned over to The News, leading to the Oct. 9 story.

It is believed that as many as five copies were made after the initial incident was reported by Chojnacki. Lewandowski and Chojnacki each had one. Others were provided to the town's human resource officer, town attorney and Town Board, a source told the News.

Chojnacki, Kolbert and Piotrowski could not be reached Friday to comment or failed to return repeated telephone calls.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com