Just before the trial of former state Sen. George D. Maziarz was set to begin last month, his attorneys learned of internal state Board of Elections emails questioning whether he committed any crime at all.
Now, Joseph M. LaTona, of Buffalo, and E. Stewart Jones, of Troy, are moving to dismiss the three-count indictment against the former Niagara County Republican powerhouse — asking why Maziarz is guilty of anything if those investigating the original charges wonder what he did wrong.
“These emails circulated among Board of Elections officials indicated doubt as to whether it is a crime to fail to disclose the ultimate recipient of campaign funds through a pass through entity,” LaTona said Friday, adding his motion filed before Judge Peter A. Lynch in Albany County Court seeks dismissal of the charges “in the interest of justice.”
While state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman contends Maziarz and other Niagara County Republicans conspired to hide the source of campaign money paid to a former staffer, LaTona says other rulings stemming from a similar case in Syracuse show no criminal intent.
In addition, LaTona and Jones cite other new evidence disclosed just before the scheduled September trial they claim points to no responsibility on the former senator’s part for the campaign finance reports filed with the Board of Elections.
While the attorney general claims Maziarz arranged a scheme to pay former staffer Glen S. Aronow with his Senate campaign funds, LaTona said the man then heading the Niagara County Republican Committee – current Assemblyman Michael J. Norris — told a grand jury that nobody influenced him on how the party should report use of the funds to the board.
LaTona contends that evidence presented to the grand jury in March should have been disclosed but was not. He also says neither Maziarz nor Norris was involved in preparing the campaign finance reports or directed how they should be prepared.
“If George is accused of filing it, it would require he had something to do with it,” LaTona said, adding prosecutors in Schneiderman’s New York City office ordered those trying the case to disclose the new evidence in a Sept. 22 pre-trial hearing.
Schneiderman alleged that Maziarz orchestrated a “multi-layered pass-through scheme” that enabled him to use money from his own Committee to Elect Maziarz State Senate, and also from the Niagara County Republican Committee. He is charged with funneling secret campaign payments to Aronow, who had left the senator’s government staff amid charges of sexual harassment.
A spokesman for the attorney general said late Friday it had not yet seen the motions filed by the Maziarz attorneys and could not comment.
An attempt by LaTona to dismiss the Maziarz charges in July, however, was rejected by Lynch.
According to court filings, the two committees paid Aronow $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 in 2013-14. To conceal the payments and to avoid public scrutiny of his decision to retain Aronow — a former Niagara County legislator — for campaign work, the state contends Maziarz and others falsely reported the expenditures in five separate filings with the Board of Elections.
As a result of the new evidence disclosed just before the start of the trial originally scheduled for Sept. 25 in Albany County Court, Lynch postponed the proceedings until Feb. 5 to give defense attorneys time to prepare for a case now involving new evidence. Attorneys involved in the case say the late date stems chiefly from Lynch’s crowded court calendar.
If it resumes next year, the case is expected to feature much of the Niagara County Republican establishment — over which Maziarz presided as a behind-the-scenes political boss, for more than two decades.
Several prominent Niagara County Republicans had been expected to testify at the trial, some of whom were granted immunity last spring by an Albany County grand jury.
Last March, a procession of former and current Niagara County Republicans — all Maziarz associates — appeared before an Albany County grand jury convened by Schneiderman, receiving immunity from prosecution in return.
They included figures like Norris, former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry F. Wojtaszek, and Maziarz’s Senate successor, Robert G. Ortt.
Wojtaszek, president of Western Region Off Track Betting, eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance violation in connection with the case. Schneiderman also charged Ortt in a related case involving payments to his wife, but Lynch dismissed the charges.
In the Maziarz case, the former senator was charged with paying Aronow $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 in 2013-14 and then concealing the payments in false filings.
LaTona said the state is expected to answer his motion by Oct. 27, while attorneys for both sides are scheduled for oral arguments before Lynch on Nov. 2 at 9 a.m.