When State Sen. George D. Maziarz racked up $140,000 in unitemized campaign expenses in recent years, the state’s Moreland Commission and ultimately federal investigators started paying attention, according to sources close to the investigation.
Now, subpoenas have been delivered to former Maziarz staffers and associates as a federal grand jury starts asking questions. Sources say that some of those questions even involve whether campaign records connected with the unitemized expenses were destroyed as the probe intensified.
The same sources also say that several former staffers are now cooperating with law enforcement following Sunday’s declaration by Maziarz, 61, of Newfane, that he will not seek re-election to the Senate seat he has held for 19 years. Though Niagara County’s most powerful politician said he no longer harbors “passion” for the job and wants to spend more time with his family, his departure exactly coincides with a widening probe that sources say stems from the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan.
“This is an extension of the Moreland Commission investigation to Preet Bharara,” said one source familiar with the investigation who asked not to be identified. “They want to review documents and speak to people.”
Bharara picked up the Moreland Commission work after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo first created the panel to probe public corruption and then terminated it at the end of this year’s legislative session.
So far, The Buffalo News has learned that subpoenas have been issued to Alicia D. Colatarci, who resigned last week from her $82,200-a-year job as Maziarz’s chief of staff. She has retained Syracuse attorney Daniel J. French, a former U.S. attorney in Syracuse.
In addition, former office manager Marcus R. Hall has hired Buffalo defense attorney Rodney O. Personius, and sources indicate that campaign treasurer Laureen M. Jacobs also has been subpoenaed. In most cases, investigators are seeking documents.
French said Colatarci is among those served with subpoenas.
“She was subpoenaed several weeks ago in regard to Sen. Maziarz,” he said Monday. “The issues are about the senator and his campaign committee. She is not a target and is cooperating fully.”
Joseph M. LaTona, who is representing Maziarz, would not comment.
But Terrence M. Connors, who is representing Jacobs, said that no one has accused his client of any wrongdoing.
“If she is asked to supply documents from the committee, she will comply,” he said.
Those familiar with the kind of investigations conducted by Bharara’s office say information such as credit card receipts and other records of financial transactions by the campaign will be sought and examined. The aim, they say, is to gain further information about their nature if they were not itemized on campaign finance reports submitted to the state Board of Elections.
“Unlike congressional offices, which have tightened up on their reporting, it looks like Senate and Assembly campaigns are run out people’s basements,” said one source familiar with the investigation. “The record-keeping was not good.”
Another source said the Maziarz practice of distributing gift baskets to local organizations like Scout troops – which could then raffle them off – also may raise the interest of investigators. The source remains doubtful, however, the practice would result in anything more than investigation.
“I can’t say there is anything solid out there, but as along as the U.S. attorney and the FBI invest time and money, they keep going,” the source added.
City and State magazine reported in May that documents accumulated by the Moreland Commission showed Maziarz leading the state with $140,000 in unspecified expenditures from his campaign account, paying for everything from wine to a clown rental. The magazine also said the commission was probing campaign expenditures not explained on financial-disclosure forms.
A statement from Maziarz’s office at the time said: “The Moreland Commission never asked me for any information, made any inquiries to my office or raised any issue with my campaign. We have followed all campaign laws, reported all expenditures and have always been very transparent.”
This is not the first time Maziarz has attracted scrutiny over his campaign finances. In 1993, when he was Niagara County clerk, his campaign committee pleaded guilty to failing to list the true identity of a campaign contributor whose questionable contribution was discovered by federal and state investigators probing alleged corruption in the county.
The guilty plea on the misdemeanor charge was entered under a plea agreement that required him to contribute $3,733 to the League of Women Voters of the Buffalo Metropolitan Area, pay a $500 fine and resign as chairman of the North Tonawanda Republican Committee and as vice chairman of the Niagara County Republican Committee. He also was barred from serving as a political committee officer until 1997.
At the time, Maziarz agreed to cooperate with federal and state investigators who uncovered the election committee’s violation of state election law in their probe of alleged corruption.
Maziarz’s committee had improperly listed $3,733 as money he personally lent to the committee in October 1989 when he was campaigning for his first four-year term as county clerk. The “loan” was listed on campaign donation records that the committee filed with the Niagara County Board of Elections.
The $3,733 was part of a $4,829 contribution made by William J. Rugg Sr., former president of Krehbiel Associates, a Town of Tonawanda engineering firm that performed a substantial amount of work for the City of North Tonawanda when Maziarz served as city clerk before being elected county clerk.
Maziarz said the inaccurate listing of the loan was a “technical mistake” the committee made in preparing paperwork for the Board of Elections.