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Editorial: Where's the money Maziarz says was stolen?

Anyone who read the detailed story of the chaotic financial mess in the office of former state Sen. George D. Maziarz knows that the full story hasn’t been told. Prosecutors need to keep digging into this matter until the public knows whether money was stolen from the campaign account of the former senator from Niagara County and, if so, who is responsible.

The public already knows that Maziarz has pleaded guilty to an election law misdemeanor. Now he wants prosecutors to track down at least $350,000 in campaign donations that he says were stolen from his office. Some went to questionable expenses, according to a report by forensic auditors hired by Maziarz’s lawyers.

It’s impossible at this point to know where the truth lies in this – if Maziarz is angry and wants to offload some of his guilt or if there is some level of truth in his allegations of theft. That’s where Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn Jr. comes in.

Flynn, who is investigating the case because of a conflict in the Niagara County prosecutor’s office, needs to get to the bottom of the matter. A good place to start is with Maziarz’s former campaign treasurer, Laureen M. Jacobs. It was her duty to keep detailed accounts, yet Flynn was unable to use them to track expenses.

“Due to the bookkeeping records that we were provided, we were also unable, from a criminal standpoint, to determine who benefited from the alleged purchases,” he said. If the records, themselves, are inadequate, that’s a problem and potentially a violation of election law.

The purchases he referred to are related to the money Maziarz says was stolen. He accuses Jacobs, former chief of staff Alisa Colatarci-Reimann and some lower-level staffers. Lawyers for the two women say their clients did nothing wrong in handling campaign funds.

Nevertheless, the report by the forensic auditors, Freed Maxick CPAs, suggests something was amiss. It labels more than $650,000 in checks and debit card purchases as “questionable.”

For example, more than $18,600 was spent on school activities and sports teams associated with the children of Jacobs and Colatarci-Reimann, according to the audit. More than $42,000 was spent at Target. Thousands were spent on Time Warner Cable bills at the treasurer’s house. About $8,300 was spent on photos sent to the online publishing site Shutterfly. The audit needs to be examined by prosecutors for accuracy and, if necessary, followed up.

The state Board of Elections in 2015 also flagged 329 checks made payable to cash, large numbers of unitemized transactions and campaign finance statements that falsely reported or failed to report numerous expenditures.

No one other than Maziarz has accused Jacobs and Colatarci-Reimann of improper conduct. But there are obvious questions that need to be asked and they should begin with Jacobs, whose reports were required to include who benefited from campaign donations and for what reason.

None of this is to excuse Maziarz. Like any public official, he has to delegate authority but, in the end, he is accountable for the operations of his former office. And the fact that he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor documents some level of indifference to election law.

Yes, he had been charged with felonies that were pleaded down, but that doesn’t absolve him. Indeed, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is virtually alone in seeking to enforce election laws in New York. He needs to continue holding public officials accountable for violations.

But something more may be amiss. Was money stolen? Were spending records inappropriately maintained? Is the forensic audit credible? Who is telling the truth here?

Every resident of Niagara County and every donor to Maziarz has an interest in getting answers to these questions. That obligation falls to Flynn, who promised in his 2016 campaign to pursue public corruption. This is his moment.

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