By Mike Hudson
You read it here first.
How many times in the 17-year history of the Niagara Falls Reporter have we begun articles with just those words?
On May 11, we ran our last installment of what had become the saga of state Sen. Rob Ortt. State Attorney General Eric Scheiderman had indicted Ortt on three felony counts of filing a false instrument.
On Tuesday, Albany County Judge Peter Lynch dismissed the indictment in its entirety.
Ortt, the former North Tonawanda mayor, was accused of padding his mayoral salary through a no-show job for his wife, Meghan, who was indirectly paid $21,500 over four years by the Niagara County Republican Committee. The political nature of Ortt’s persecution was painfully obvious to anyone who bothered to look.
Currently, there are 62 state senators, with one seat vacant. Should the Republican Ortt be convicted he would have to step down, and the Democrats would be left in control of the Senate. Scheiderman is a former state senator himself, and a Democrat.
The evidence itself was also tissue paper thin. While Scheiderman alleged that Meghan Ortt “secretly” received payments totaling around $20,000 from the Niagara County Republican Committee while her husband served as mayor of North Tonawanda, records showed that the Ortts paid state and federal income taxes on the money.
“Rob and Meghan paid all appropriate taxes on the retainer and fully disclosed it on the only written instrument that he has ever been responsible for filing, his personal financial disclosure,” said Ortt’s spokeswoman, Andrea Bozek.
A decorated war hero who enlisted in the NY Army National Guard in October 2001 in direct response to the attacks on September 11 and is a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where he served on the dangerous Kandahar front from March 2008 until December of the same year, Ortt vowed to fight Schneiderman’s spurious charges with everything he had.
“I have no doubt that the only reason I am involved in this case, that I was part of this investigation, is to make it more politically appealing and to further Eric Schneiderman’s partisan agenda,” he told reporters.
“We look forward to telling voters the truth about Eric Schneiderman and exposing him for the power hungry, political opportunist he is and I will fight this ridiculous charge,” he added.
Lynch’s decision faulted prosecutors from state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office for their presentation to the grand jury, saying it didn’t contain any direct evidence that Ortt knew the payments were actually coming from the county GOP.
Lynch wrote, “The court has inspected the grand jury minutes and finds the evidence before the grand jury was legally insufficient to establish the offenses changed…”
“It is this court’s view, that there was no valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences which could lead a rational grand jury to issue an indictment in this case,” he continued.
In a prepared statement, Ortt said he was pleased Lynch dismissed “these ridiculous political charges,” calling Schneiderman a “power hungry, political opportunist.”
“It is my hope that this ruling today will force Mr. Schneiderman to think twice before concocting baseless charges to serve his own radical progressive political agenda again,” Ortt said. “My wife and I look forward to receiving a personal apology from Mr. Schneiderman.”
In a separate statement, Schneiderman spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said the office disagrees with Lynch’s opinion and is considering its options.
The dismissals should cheer Ortt’s longtime political mentor, former state Sen. George Maziarz, who himself was indicted on a raft of politically related charges on the same day as Ortt last March.
Maziarz has also steadfastly maintained his innocence and is scheduled for trial on Aug. 21.
Both indictments are thought to be based on information provided by former county Republican chairman Henry Wojtaszek who, earlier this year, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of state election law in return for cooperating in the cases.
There are laws against malicious prosecution and Lynch’s decision would lead any rational individual to believe that the Ortt witch hunt was nothing if not malicious.
As we suggested in our May 11 article, perhaps it is time that someone investigates Eric Schneiderman.