Maziarz trial delayed till February

George Maziarz

ALBANY — The public corruption case against former state Sen. George Maziarz will be delayed.

State Supreme Court Justice Peter Lynch, sitting in Albany, granted the delay at the request of Maziarz's defense team. Maziarz's defense attorney, E. Stewart Jones, told Lynch that prosecutors in the New York State Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit turned over additional documents just this week and that the evidence will require some time to analyze and investigate.

Earlier this week, Maziarz's lead, Buffalo-based, defense attorney, Joseph LaTona told the Gazette that he and Jones were ready to start jury selection in the case beginning Monday.

"We are going to trial," LaTona told the Gazette. "Everything starts Monday, yes sir."

LaTona estimated the trial might last two weeks. The trial is now slated to start Feb. 5.

Maziarz — long considered one of the most powerful men in Niagara County politics — faces an indictment that charges him with engaging in a “multi-layered pass-through scheme” that enabled him to use money from his campaign committee, The Committee to Elect Maziarz State Senate, and also from the Niagara County Republican Committee, to funnel secret payments to a former senate staffer.

Lawyers for Maziarz have tried repeatedly to have the changes against him dismissed. In mid-July it took Lynch just a few hours to reject Maziarz's last attempt to have the case thrown out.

Lynch wrote, in his decision, that Maziarz had “failed to meet his heavy burden of proof to establish a selective enforcement claim.”

The former senator's defense team had argued that he had been singled out for prosecution by Democratic state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Jones told Lynch, at that time, that Schneiderman had only charged Maziarz, and his hand-picked successor, current State Sen. Robert Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, with violations of state election laws. Jones insisted that was proof of a selective prosecution.

But Lynch disagreed. He wrote that, “Clearly, the prosecutor’s election to prosecute both (Maziarz) and co-defendant Ortt evidences no selective enforcement against (Maziarz).” 

Lynch had already dismissed the case against Ortt for what he determined was a lack of sufficient evidence to prove the case.

The justice also took issue with a claim that the case against Maziarz was “pure politics” because Schneiderman has not charged any of the senator’s former staffers for allegedly embezzling campaign funds.

Lynch noted that Maziarz is not charged with embezzlement, so the former staffers are not in the same circumstances as their one-time boss.

In a ruling issued in June, Lynch rejected the arguments of the Maziarz legal team that evidence presented to a grand jury was insufficient and that the state Attorney General did not have jurisdiction to bring the case.

Prosecutors in Public Integrity Unit argued that they have engaged in a “lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion” in the Maziarz case.

The AG’s office has noted that it has prosecuted Democrats like former Erie County Democratic Party powerbroker Steven Pigeon and that they acted on a board of elections referral on Maziarz and Ortt, jointly investigated by the FBI's Buffalo field office.

Some of the documents turned over to the Maziarz defense team this week may be related to that board of elections referral. The attorney general's office had no comment on the trial delay.

A spokesperson for Schneiderman has told the Gazette, “We look forward to proving our felony corruption charges against Mr. Maziarz in court.”

Though not identified in the attorney general’s court filings, the Gazette has confirmed that the former staffer to which payments were funneled is Glenn Aronow who served as Maziarz’s director of community affairs before leaving the job in late 2011 amid allegations of sexual harassment.

Aronow also served as a Niagara County legislator, representing Lockport, from 2002-2006.

State prosecutors charge that Maziarz’s campaign committee and the Niagara County GOP committee paid Aronow $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 in 2013-2014, but that the senator didn’t want the payments made public. The AG’s office said Maziarz wanted “to conceal these payments — and to avoid public scrutiny of his decision to retain the former staffer for campaign-related work.”

Under the scheme, Maziarz, “acting with others,” is accused of falsely reporting the expenditures on five separate filings with the New York State Board of Elections as payments to “pass-through entities, rather than to (Aronow).”

The charges against Maziarz, first-degree filing of a false instrument, carry a maximum possible prison sentence of one and one-third to four years on each count.