Jim Mazzariello says the case against him is more about retribution than justice.
Mazzariello, the tow truck company owner accused of bribing Buffalo police officers, says that he was the first one to bring allegations of bribes and shakedowns to the attention of the FBI and Buffalo City Hall and that now he’s the one being accused of wrongdoing.
“I have fought corruption my whole life,” he told reporters just minutes after being arraigned in Buffalo federal court Thursday afternoon. “Because of that, I’m now a victim of it.”
Mazzariello and two others were indicted Wednesday as part of an FBI-led investigation into an alleged criminal scheme involving Buffalo’s towing business.
The allegation is that Mazzariello paid off city police officers, and in return they directed towing work to his company.
He faces charges of operating a bribery conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
Steven M. Cohen, Mazzariello’s defense lawyer, said the “weakness of the indictment speaks volumes” about the case against his client.
He also wondered aloud why no Buffalo police officers have been charged.
“It’s an abomination of justice,” Cohen said. “The indictment talks about officers being involved, but no officers are charged.”
The grand jury indictment also charges Mazzariello’s son Adam, who is a company supervisor, and Christopher Mahoney, a manager at Mazz Auto.
The elder Mazzariello said the bribery charges stem from his long-standing criticism of corrupt cops and the favoritism City Hall shows to some of his competitors.
“We are not part of the inner circle,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”
Kevin Helfer, the city’s parking commissioner, challenged Mazzariello’s statements, calling them baseless.
“There’s absolutely no merit to his allegations,” Helfer said.
Helfer declined to comment further, but a source close to the investigation said Cohen came to the city with his allegations but never produced a single piece of evidence to back them up.
Cohen also says that his client went to the FBI in 1998 with similar allegations and that the federal agency, like the city, declined to investigate.
The FBI declined to comment Thursday.
Mazzariello’s criticism of the government’s prosecution followed an arraignment that focused as much on Cohen as Mazzariello.
Prosecutors say Cohen should be removed from the case because he has represented more than one defendant in the case, as well as other uncharged co-conspirators.
In addition, the government believes Cohen could become a witness in the case if it goes to trial.
In court papers seeking Cohen’s removal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell T. Ippolito Jr. said Cohen has repeatedly made admissions to reporters that the defendants have bribed police officers.
“He is absolutely a potential witness,” Ippolito told U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.
When asked about Ippolito’s claims, Cohen said his comments to reporters were about shakedowns by police, not bribes.
Cohen, in a separate motion in a different but related case, has asked the court for a preliminary injunction.
Cohen said he wants a court order compelling the City of Buffalo to allow Jim Mazz Auto to work in the city.
He said the city has told its police officers and parking enforcement personnel to prevent his client from doing any work in the city, even though Jim Mazz Auto is a fully licensed business.
The investigation into bribes and shakedowns became public in December, when the FBI and Buffalo police searched Jim Mazz Auto, and again in July, when Jeffrey A. Mott, a police officer under investigation, was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Pendleton home.
It’s not clear if Mott was one of the two officers mentioned in the indictment.