Twenty dollars owed to cops.
Prosecutors say that notation, found in a ledger seized from Jim Mazz Auto, is the latest evidence of a “pay to play” bribery scheme in Buffalo’s towing business.
The ledger came to light Tuesday when the man who kept it, a former Jim Mazz manager, admitted taking part in a conspiracy to bribe Buffalo police officers.
“We were very lucky,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell T. Ippolito Jr. said of the ledger. “It was perfect evidence.”
Christopher Mahoney, the former manager who oversaw the daily ledger, admitted taking part in a scheme that included paying off police officers over a three-year period ending in 2012.
Mahoney’s admissions, part of a plea deal that could send him to prison for two years, come as the latest development in an FBI-led investigation into an alleged criminal scheme involving Buffalo’s towing business.
The allegation is that James Mazzariello and others at Jim Mazz Auto paid off city police officers, and in return the officers directed towing work to his company.
Ippolito said the bribes ranged from $20 to $50 for each accident, and he indicated the government has proof of at least 19 bribe payments totaling $500.
“One officer?” asked U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara.
Ippolito said the FBI investigation centered around one officer but remains open. He noted later that Mahoney’s plea agreement refers to more than one officer receiving bribes.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. would not identify the officer suspected of taking bribes but indicated his office is “ready, willing and able” to prosecute cops if sufficient evidence becomes available.
Hochul also expressed surprise at the amount of the bribes and that officers would be “willing to tarnish their badges for $20 to $50.”
The FBI stopped short of identifying the officers suspected of taking bribes, although one of them is believed to be Jeffrey A. Mott. The 25-year veteran of the force was under investigation by the FBI when he was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Pendleton home last July.
“It’s still an ongoing investigation,” said Brian P. Boetig, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo. “I anticipate a thorough look by the Buffalo Police Department, the FBI and the U.S. attorney in this matter.”
Steven M. Cohen, Mazzariello’s defense lawyer, also wonders why no police officers have been charged in the case.
Cohen, who has represented Jim Mazz Auto since 1998, said the government’s case is really about retribution, not justice. He claims Mazzariello was the first one to bring allegations of bribes and shakedowns to the attention of the FBI and Buffalo City Hall, and now he’s the one being accused of wrongdoing.
“We went to the city on four separate occasions complaining about Jeff Mott,” Cohen said Tuesday. “For the U.S. attorney to now say, ‘Eureka, we found a bad guy,’ is despicable.”
Mazzariello is charged with conspiracy to pay bribes, and Mahoney is expected to cooperate in the government’s case against his former boss.
James P, Harrington, Mahoney’s defense lawyer, noted that his client was not a major player in the scheme and was simply acting at the behest of others.
The grand jury indictment also charges Mazzariello’s son Adam, who is a company supervisor.