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Column: Lawyers profit from Maziarz probe

George Maziarz is no longer sponsoring legislation since his departure from the State Senate back in 2014. But if he were running today, he could probably tout a new jobs creation bill.

He might even dub it the Full Employment for Lawyers Act of 2017.

A tabulation of all the noted counselors involved with the former senator, including state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s probe of the Newfane Republican’s campaign spending, now totals at least 19. More probably to come.

And we suspect that when the services of ancillary attorneys, legal staffers, accountants and public relations professionals are included, the Maziarz investigation may rival the Buffalo Billion for job creation in Western New York.

Probe of Maziarz and his campaign funds widens

Some of those attorneys are paid from Maziarz’s $684,000 leftover campaign fund. Others caught up in the affair are scrounging their own finances to pay legal advisers.

Maziarz himself has been paying Buffalo criminal defense attorney Joe LaTona since 2014, according to campaign finance records. He spent more than $255,000 from his campaign account on legal and accounting services since then, almost $47,000 in the last half of 2016 alone.

Now a list of attorneys involved in the case resembles a Who’s Who of New York State attorneys. Besides LaTona, Maziarz has been paying out-of-town legal firms and an accounting outfit here.

Rob Ortt, Maziarz’s successor in the Senate, has also retained a criminal defense attorney – Stephen Coffey of Albany. Locally he has hired George Muscato and Michele Bergevin.

Then there’s the parade of those subpoenaed by an Albany County grand jury a few days ago. Former Maziarz staffer Glen Aronow was represented by Cheryl Myers-Buth; Assemblyman Mike Norris by Joel Daniels.

Former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek, who is also considered a target in the attorney general’s probe, has hired Pat Brown. Tim Synor, a North Tonawanda marketing man who appeared before the grand jury, is advised by Herb Greenman. Political consultant Jack Cookfair has Syracuse attorney Tom Cerio.

Then there’s the separate probe of $151,000 still missing from the Maziarz camp. That investigation started with Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara back when he was still allowed to root out corruption. Then it ended up in the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office headed by Caroline Wojtaszek, husband of Henry Wojtaszek.

Probe of Maziarz looks into diversion of campaign funds

That arrangement did not exactly prompt pleasant dinner table conversation. The missing money aspect of the case was transferred to Erie County District Attorney John Flynn.

Probe of Maziarz campaign funds turned over to Erie County DA

The list continues. Buffalo’s Terry Connors represents Laureen Jacobs, the former Maziarz campaign treasurer. Rod Personius advises Marcus Hall, another former Maziarz campaign staffer. Dan French, the former U.S. attorney in Syracuse, at one time was representing another former Maziarz staffer – Alisa Colatarci-Riemann (though he may have since left the case).

It leads to serious questions, especially since besieged pols in New York City – like Mayor Bill de Blasio – must establish separate funds to pay for legal defense outside their normal campaign accounts.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, says contributors to Maziarz never envisioned their money funding more than a quarter million dollars for legal defense.

“We at Common Cause believe that when people give money to a candidate they should know what it’s used for,” she said. “Campaigns should use it for campaigns.”

If a candidate wants to send out birthday cards – or for that matter hire criminal defense attorneys – they should establish a separate account, Lerner said.

All of this may explain why Maziarz left the Senate in 2014 at the peak of his political power. He has since relied on his brimming campaign account to pay for the legal expenses he sensed were en route.

It’s good to be a pol in New York State – even when you’re in trouble.


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