Ortt, Maziarz plead not guilty to campaign finance charges

Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 22, 2017

State senator Robert Ortt and former state senator George Maziarz have pleaded not guilty to felony election law violations in connection to political campaign donations.

The indictments follow an investigation by the State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office into Ortt, Maziarz, and former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek.

Schneiderman says Ortt laundered political donations that were supposed to fund campaigns to personally enrich Ortt and his wife while he served as Mayor of North Tonawanda.

Schneiderman accuses them of using political consulting firms as "pass-through entities" to disguise the scheme.

According to the attorney general, Ortt took part in the illegal scheme "to pad his taxpayer-funded salary" in order to make up for a loss of $5,000 in salary when he moved from clerk and treasurer to North Tonawanda mayor.

Ortt's spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek, says the senator's wife was hired to perform graphic design work, but Schneiderman says "she performed no actual work." The alleged payments from 2010 to 2014 added up to approximately $21,500.

Ortt pleaded not guilty to all three felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing Thursday morning. He is due back in court in May. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of one and one-third to four years on each count.

Ortt was released on his own recognizance and says he plans to continue his work in the senate while he fights these charges.

Maziarz, the longtime state senator from Niagara County whom Ortt succeeded, also pleaded not guilty Thursday to five counts of election law violations. He also faces one and one-third to four years on each count if convicted.

Unlike Ortt who entered court through the front door of Albany County Court, Maziarz entered through a back door and avoided reporters.

Maziarz is accused of using money from his own campaign and from the Niagara County Republican Committee to make secret payments to a former senate staffer who left government service during charges of sexual harassment.

Ultimately, this staffer was paid $49,000 in 2012 and $46,000 in 2013-2014. To hide these payments, Maziarz and others falsely reported expenses on five different filings with the New York State Board of Elections. The filings showed payments made to pass-through entities, not the staff member.

Stephen Coffey, Ortt's attorney, says he is not sure how the charges against Ortt are connected to Maziarz.

"I have no idea why the hell he's here," Coffey said.

Ortt issued a statement on Wednesday evening, in which he accused Schneiderman of pursuing a political agenda.

"One thing is clear: the only reason I am included in this is to make their case politically appealing. As multiple news organizations have documented, Eric Schneiderman has been obsessed with using his political office to persecute his political enemies and protect his political allies," Ortt said.

He reiterated this message after court Thursday morning.

Coffey says Ortt testified before the grand jury on Wednesday "freely and voluntarily" and was never given the opportunity to see the document he was indicted on before court.

"This is all manufactured by the Attorney General of the State of New York who apparently thinks that his row to the governorship is going to be the path to Elliot Spitzer, which will probably end up in the same barrel."

But Schneiderman says he holding those responsible accountable for their wrong doings. He also prosecuted Democratic political figures in the past.

"No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption," Schneiderman says. "New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials - not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust - and we will hold those responsible to account."

Coffey said Thursday morning that Ortt "did not sign the document, he didn't author the document, he didn't read the document, he wasn't aware of that document...he knew nothing about this document."

Ortt is fighting the charges.

7 Eyewitness News spoke Wednesday night with Patrick Brown, an attorney who is representing Wojtaszek.

Brown confirmed that Wojtaszek pleaded guilty Wednesday in Albany to a misdemeanor election law violation relating to campaign filings that were made in 2012-13.

The campaign filings involved the labeling of contributions that were paid to subcontractors, he said.

He said the criminal offense did not require fingerprinting or a mugshot to be taken.

Brown added that Wojtaszek is likely to receive a fine for the activity.