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Collins scandal hits county executive race as Poloncarz, Dixon trade attacks

The insider trading scandal surrounding Rep. Chris Collins exploded into the race for Erie County executive Friday, with the incumbent Democrat, Mark C. Poloncarz, inaccurately portraying an FBI document to attack his Republican opponent's campaign consultant.

The campaign of Republican Lynne Dixon, meanwhile, lashed back by noting various controversies in the Poloncarz administration. Other Republicans privately highlighted the fact that Poloncarz took more than $10,000 in campaign donations from a local businessman whose home and electronic devices were searched as part of the Collins probe.

It all started in the morning, when Poloncarz released a statement lashing into Dixon's consultant, longtime Collins associate Christopher M. Grant.

Citing a Buffalo News story Friday that said Grant had dumped shares of the same stock on the same day as people charged with felonies in the Collins investigation, Poloncarz asserted that Grant "engaged in illegal insider trading." The Buffalo News story did not say that. Based on two affidavits from an FBI agent involved in the Collins probe, the story instead said Grant averted losses of $11,200 by selling his shares of Innate Immunotherapeutics on the same day in June 2017 that Cameron Collins — the congressman's son — did. Federal prosecutors say Cameron Collins and his prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, based their stock trades on inside information that Cameron Collins got from his father.

The affidavits never accuse Grant of a crime. Nevertheless, Poloncarz called on Dixon to fire Grant and to disclose whether she had ever received any inside stock tips from Grant or Collins.

The county executive also noted that law enforcement raided Grant's home in 2015 in a separate probe that ended with him never accused of any wrongdoing.

"Insider trading is a serious crime," Poloncarz said in his campaign statement. "Regardless of whether (Grant) has been charged with a crime, a charge that still may be pending, Mr. Grant’s repeated history of being involved in corruption and on the wrong side of the law indicates he should be nowhere near a public office, nevertheless the head of a campaign for county executive."

Told that Poloncarz was incorrect in accusing Grant of a crime, the county executive's spokesman, Peter Anderson, said: "We have a difference of opinion on this topic. It is obvious that Chris Grant had access to insider information and acted on it."

Meanwhile, Dixon's campaign viewed Poloncarz's attack on Grant – which he elaborated on in an afternoon news conference – as a sign of desperation.

"While Lynne Dixon is focused on the real issues that the voters of Erie County care about, Mark Poloncarz is focused on settling decade-old political scores," said Dixon campaign manager Bryan Fiume. "And it is why voters are looking for something different come November."

Fiume's statement also lashed into Poloncarz for the fact that several of the county's directors have left under a cloud, including one, Al Dirschberger, who was imprisoned after a rape conviction.

Meanwhile, Republicans also privately noted that Poloncarz himself had taken contributions from local businessman Gerald A. Buchheit Jr. – who, according to those FBI affidavits, saved himself about $19,000 by dumping Innate stock on the same day that Collins' son and Zarsky did.

The Poloncarz campaign appeared unaware of the Buchheit contributions, prompting Fiume to dismiss the county executive's news conference as "a fiasco."

Asked about Buchheit's contributions, Anderson — Poloncarz's spokesman — said the county executive would be returning any donations that Buchheit had made in the past year, and would not accept any more money from the local developer. That means Poloncarz will be giving back $5,000 of the $10,198 he has received from Buchheit over the years.

"There is a big difference here," Anderson said. "Mark learned of Mr. Buchheit's activities and is now returning those donations, while conversely Lynne is aware of Mr. Grant's illegal activities but they apparently don't bother her, as she will continue to employ and pay him."

Federal authorities have not accused Grant — long Collins' top political adviser — of a crime. He was not charged when Collins was arrested last August, and the FBI affidavits from July 2018 detail Grant's stock trades but never say he committed a crime.

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