Former state senator sues region's OTB, alleging misuse of public funds

A former state senator is suing Western Regional Off-Track Betting, maintaining that the gaming entity has ripped off localities by allowing its board members to profligately misuse gambling revenues.

The lawsuit from former state Sen. George Maziarz relies in part on findings of the state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who in audits last year said that the region's Off-Track Betting Corp., or OTB, spent $1.3 million over three years on suites and concessions at arenas and stadiums in Buffalo and Rochester.

Those expenses included at least $121,000 worth of perks that went to board members and employees, the September audit found.

“The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation needs to clean up its operations,” DiNapoli said then. "Revenues from the OTB are supposed to go to participating municipalities, not to give board members and employees generous perks and other benefits."

Maziarz's lawsuit seeks reimbursement for the localities, as well as civil penalties against the board of directors. Richard Bianchi, Monroe County's representative, is chairman of the board.

OTB is a public corporation.

On Thursday, Maziarz held a series of news conferences across western New York, announcing the lawsuit, which was filed in Erie County. At a news conference across from an OTB casino and harness track operation in Batavia, OTB trucks drove by, sounding their horns in an apparent attempt to drown him out, Maziarz said.

There is legislation introduced in Albany this year that would limit the value of gifts for OTB directors. OTB's directors also receive generous health care benefits, even though the state Attorney General determined in 2008 that those benefits should not be awarded.

The nonprofit Investigative Post in Erie County has reported extensively on questionable practices and spending by the OTB directors and agency President Henry Wojtaszek.

"Wojtaszek is the former chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party and a one-time Maziarz protege," the Investigative Post reported Thursday. "Their relationship turned bitter in 2017 after Wojtaszek pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor under an agreement with state prosecutors overseeing a probe into Maziarz’s campaign finances."

In 2018 Maziarz pleaded guilty to one count of offering a false instrument for filing as part of a scheme to cover up payments from his political campaign to a former staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment. Maziarz paid a $1,000 fine and the misdemeanor charge resolved a criminal case that originally included five felony charges related to allegations of campaign finance fraud.

In a statement, Western Regional OTB said: "This isn’t a lawsuit. It’s a publicity stunt.

"The alleged claims are meritless and not even worth the paper they are printed on. Many of the allegations in the complaint are just simply false. And we welcome the opportunity to refute them when we respond to the complaint in court."

The OTB said that in 2021 it delivered record revenues to 15 counties and the cities of Rochester and Buffalo.

Before the pandemic, former OTB officials were interviewed by the FBI in an apparent investigation into the possible misuse of public funds. However, it's unclear if that investigation has continued.

Maziarz is supported in his lawsuit by the public interest law firm, Advocates for Justice.

Contact Gary Craig at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at gcraig1