An Albany County judge has thrown out a corruption case brought by the state attorney general against Sen. Rob Ortt, R-Niagara County, saying the evidence presented was “legally insufficient.”
Ortt was accused by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of participating in a scheme to arrange a “no-show” job for his wife so he could make up for a reduced salary when gave up his job as the city clerk-treasurer to run for mayor of North Tonawanda, a seat he won and served in until 2014 when he ran for state Senate.
In March, the Attorney General’s Office alleged that Ortt agreed to an illegal scheme to pad his taxpayer-funded salary, orchestrated by former the Niagara County Republican Chairman.
The Attorney General’s Office said, in order to make up for a difference in salary that Ortt would be paid as mayor, Ortt and others devised a pass-through scheme to pay Ortt’s wife for a job for which she performed no actual work. Ortt’s wife received approximately $21,500 from 2010 to 2014 as part of the scheme.
“No-show jobs and secret payments are the lifeblood of public corruption,” Scheiderman said in March when the indictment was first unsealed. “New Yorkers deserve full and honest disclosures by their elected officials — not the graft and shadowy payments uncovered by our investigation. These allegations represent a shameful breach of the public trust — and we will hold those responsible to account.”
However, Albany County Judge Peter Lynch ruled this week that the evidence presented to the grand jury was “legally insufficient” to justify the three felony counts of offering a false instrument, for which Ortt was charged.
Lynch wrote in his decision that there is no proof in the case that Ortt knew his wife’s salary was coming from the Niagara County Republican Committee, and not two graphic design firms that had been doing work for the committee.
Lynch wrote an 11-page decision in which he stated that the fundamental flaw of the case is that “there was no evidence whatsoever that Defendant Ortt knew the source of the monies paid by [two graphic design firms] to Meghan Ortt was [provided by the] NCRC.”
Former Sen. George Maziarz, Ortt’s predecessor, is also facing an indictment for his alleged role in the scheme and is scheduled for trial on August 21.
The charges went back to 2008 when the Niagara County Republican Committee approached Ortt about running for Mayor of North Tonawanda which would mean giving up his positions as city clerk and treasurer. In order to take the mayoral job, Ortt would have to accept a $5,000 pay reduction.
The prosecutor, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, alleged that Henry Wojtaskek, then-chairman of the NCRC, offered that the NCRC could put Meghan Ortt to work to make up for the salary that Ortt would be losing.
Meghan Ortt was hired as a graphic designer for Synor Marketing which did campaign work for the NCRC. The NCRC paid Tim Synor for his campaign work, Synor then paid Ortt a salary of $500 a month.
Schneidermann claimed that the Meghan Ortt’s position was a “no-show job”, however, the defense stated that Ortt worked for the money that Synor paid her.
When Tim Synor fell ill and was not able to do business, two checks were sent to Meghan Ortt from Glen Aronow at Regency Communications. Ortt stated that she believed that Regency was taking Synor’s business while Tim Synor was in the hospital.
Meghan Ortt claimed that she was never informed that the money came from the NCRC to cover her payments. The total payments that Ortt received from Synor and Regency added up to $21,500.
Schneidermann also alleged that the filings by the Republican Committee did not accurately report Meghan Ortt as the intended recipient of party funds.
Although Sen. Ortt had his case dismissed, Henry Wojtaszek has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation back in March.
Ortt has accused Schneiderman of being politically motivated with his case.
“This quick and forthright dismissal exposed Eric Schneiderman for the power hungry, political opportunist that he is,” Ortt said in a statement. “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.”
Schneiderman is reportedly unhappy with Lynch’s decision and Schneiderman’s spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said in a statement that the attorney general’s office is reviewing its options.
“Rob Ortt is a friend and colleague who has maintained his innocence from day one,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a statement. “Now everyone will know what his Senate colleagues and I have known for a very long time — that he is a person of honor and integrity who did everything right. Beyond that, Rob Ortt is an outstanding public official who has served his community as a local mayor and state Senator, and fought for his country as a member of the Armed Forces. He has been a leader on statewide mental health issues, worked tirelessly to combat heroin and opioid addiction, and raised awareness about concerns related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I look forward to continuing to work with him to move Western New York and our entire state forward. God Bless Senator Ortt and his family for the strength and courage they have shown.”