State Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane) has kept a low profile since announcing last week in a written statement that he would not seek re-election to the seat he has held for 19 years, a shocking development that came as reports surfaced of an escalated federal probe into his campaign account.
But Maziarz broke his silence two days ago, telling reporter Mike Hudson “I will be completely exonerated because I have done absolutely nothing wrong,” adding “when people find out what’s really going on here, they’re going to be shocked.”
Nothing could probably top the shock of his statement on the evening of July 13 when he issued the statement that he was not going to seek re-election this year because he just didn’t have the passion and commitment anymore. This from the man known as “King George” who wielded enormous political clout on his home turf (62nd District) which includes all of Niagara and Orleans Counties and two towns in the western part of Monroe County.
Democrats now hold a slight edge in the recently redrawn district but Maziarz has never faced a serious challenge and wasn’t expected to have any trouble this year winning re-election until the rapidly expanding investigation likely triggered his decision not to run.
We reported last week that the federal probe by the U. S. attorney for the Southern District of New York was picking up steam and two top Maziarz aides resigned shortly after receiving subpoenas as part of the investigation. Records were also subpoenaed from the treasurer of Maziarz’s campaign committee.
The Albany Times Union has reported that U. S. Attorney Preet Bharara is examining dozens of payments made to the family of Maziarz’s longtime re-election committee treasurer, Laureen Jacobs, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in un-itemized checks that were made out to cash and never reported to the state Board of Elections.
Top Buffalo defense attorney Terry Connors, who represents Jacobs, says she has complied with a subpoena for records and has done nothing wrong.
We reported last week that according to a report in City and State magazine, which analyzed the documents of the now-defunct Moreland Commission, Maziarz topped the list of un-itemized campaign expense filings totaling more than $140,000 between 2008 and 2013. A total of 28 state senators (including Maziarz) with un-itemized expenses over $10,000, are also believed to be under scrutiny by federal investigators stemming from the Moreland Commission report.
The unexpected fall of Maziarz that now puts his seat up for grabs spells bad news for Republicans who hope to maintain at least some control of the State Senate, the last bastion of GOP power in Albany. The recent defection, at Gov. Cuomo’s urging, of the Independent Democratic Conference which had aligned with Republicans in a power-sharing block, gives Democrats a strong chance of controlling the Senate next year.
Niagara Falls lawyer and school board member Johnny Destino has the strong support of Niagara Democratic Chairman Nick Forster in his bid to win the 62nd District seat and give Democrats a stronger voice in Niagara County politics, where Maziarz has long ruled with an iron fist, and in Albany.
Republicans have tapped North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt as their candidate, but he first must win a primary against Tea Party favorite Gia Arnold, of Holley in Orleans County, who has called for federal prosecutors to freeze Maziarz’s $1.1 million campaign fund, saying “any activity or expenditure should have to be approved by the U. S. Attorney’s Office.”
As of now, Maziarz could use money from that account to pay legal expenses, and could also give money from that account to candidates he supports. Maziarz has hired top criminal defense attorney Joseph LaTona.