NIAGARA FALLS - The woman who served for 21 years as campaign treasurer for former State Sen. George D. Maziarz was ordered Tuesday to itemize how the campaign spent more than $151,000 in unexplained and belatedly reported expenditures.
State Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour is expected to sign the order by the end of this week, starting a 30-day clock for Laureen M. Jacobs, who resigned in July as treasurer of the Maziarz campaign committee, to offer details of the amendments she made this summer to campaign finance reports for 2010, 2012 and 2013.
State Election Law says all expenditures of more than $50 are to be itemized and identified on campaign financial disclosure forms filed online. The law allows a judge to compel a campaign treasurer to fill in missing information within five days of being ordered to do so, but Montour extended Jacobs' deadline to 30 days because of the holiday season.
Maziarz left the Senate at the end of 2014, but he still has an open campaign fund, which as of July contained more than $742,000.
His departure from the Senate was announced in July 2014, and at the time, The Buffalo News reported that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney from New York City, was looking into Maziarz's campaign spending. But sources have told The News that Maziarz is in the clear, while the Niagara County District Attorney's Office turned over a probe of Maziarz staffers to the state Attorney General's Office. So far, no one has been charged with any crime.
Maziarz and his personal attorney, Joseph M. LaTona, were in the audience during Tuesday's court session. They declined to be interviewed. Jacobs did not attend.
Nicholas A. Romano, an attorney for Jacobs, told the judge that Jacobs has been questioned by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the state Attorney General's Office. "Her explanations have been accepted and so have her practices, because Ms. Jacobs has nothing to hide," Romano said.
After court, campaign committee attorney Kevin A. Szanyi questioned why Romano and co-counsel Terrence M. Connors didn't supply any documents proving that Jacobs was cleared. "I have no reason to believe that's correct," Szanyi said.
Barbara Burns, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said she would not comment on any investigation. The Attorney General's Office has not responded to a request for comment.
When Jacobs resigned as campaign treasurer - "at our insistence," Szanyi told Montour Tuesday - she had just filed amendments to the three old reports, adding a total of $151,370 in expenditures not previously reported. But those amendments were not itemized, leading to the request to the court to force Jacobs to provide details of how she arrived at the figures. In the amendments, the purpose of the spending was given as "Other."
This summer, for example, Jacobs amended the 2010 report to add more than $95,000 in unitemized spending from the campaign account. Szanyi said, "If you've got $95,000 worth of receipts, show them to us. If not, we've got a problem."
Maziarz' attorneys hired the Freed Maxick accounting firm to investigate the situation, and its managing director, Timothy J. McPoland, produced a report that cited $209,000 in previously undisclosed expenditures from the campaign fund. They included checks made out to Jacobs and her husband and daughter; former chief of staff Alisa D. Colatarci-Reimann; former office manager Marcus D. Hall and his wife; and former staff intern Andrew Norris, brother of Assemblyman-elect Michael J. Norris.
"We have identified a number of very suspicious checks and debit card expenditures," Szanyi said in court.
The Freed Maxick report showed Colatarci-Reimann received $24,134 in checks not previously reported on campaign finance filings with the Board of Elections, plus $315 listed as “Alisa Colatarci – Kids.”
Jacobs herself received $3,255, plus $2,340 listed as “Laureen Jacobs – Kids,” while her husband Francis Jacobs received $2,150, the report said.
Hall received checks totaling $6,933, and his wife, Heather Palmer, another $32. David J. Haylett Jr., a Lockport attorney who once worked for Maziarz, received $11,050. He is now a deputy corporation counsel for the City of Lockport. Andrew Norris received $1,000, the Freed Maxick report says.
The accounting firm's analysis of debit card purchases included $38,354 being spent at gas stations. The previously undisclosed spending included $19,585 in debits at Target, more than $7,300 at BJ’s Wholesale Club and $5,600 at coffee shops. There were $6,792 in electronics purchases and $6,512 spent at restaurants.
Connors said after court that Jacobs would be able to provide details on the unitemized spending. "She'll fulfill her duties," Connors said.
Romano and Connors tried to block the campaign's demand for more details on the unitemized spending, arguing that the committee failed to beat a deadline in the statute of limitations and that Maziarz was barred from making such a request because he's no longer an active candidate or officeholder.
Montour questioned why Maziarz himself didn't keep closer tabs on his campaign account. "Isn't there a responsibility on your client to review these more carefully?" the judge asked Szanyi.
"The obligation is with the treasurer under the law," Szanyi replied.