Casey Bortnick

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Posts by Casey Bortnick

Judge Dismisses Three Sexual Harassment Lawsuits Against Former Buffalo Area Assemblyman

A day after the final report into the sexual harassment accusations surrounding former state Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak was released, Gabryszak’s attorney announced a judge dismissed the civil lawsuits of three of his accusers.

Buffalo-based attorney Terry Connors told Time Warner Cable News Buffalo a judge dismissed the cases of Trina Tardone, Emily Trimper and former TV host Kristy Mazurek.  The cases were reportedly dismissed because the statute of limitations, which is three years, passed before the lawsuits were filed.

Connors said the judge is also limiting the number of claims in the remaining lawsuits to two rather than 80.

The judge issued the ruling last week. Gabryszak, 64, of Cheektowaga retired in January 2014 following sexual harassment allegations from seven separate staffers.

The report, released Wednesday by JCOPE, lays out a string of “sexually inappropriate behavior” by Gabryszak, including one incident in which he told a female staffer he was “aroused” when talking about going to strip clubs.  He would ask the woman to get him information on his cell phone or iPad, knowing she would view pictures of naked women or escort service information.

The report concluded Gabryszak broke the public officer’s law through the sexual harassment of legislative aides and the misuse of public resources for political purposes.

Hochul to Stump For Clinton In Iowa This Weekend

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is headed to Iowa this weekend to help support Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Hochul is scheduled to appear at a number of “Women for Hillary” events throughout the Hawkeye state on Sunday.

The ties between Hochul and Clinton date back to Clinton’s days in the U.S. Senate.  Clinton has enjoyed strong support from Western New York Democrats in the past, and that’s continued into this election cycle.

Hochul was seen as a Clinton ally during her days as the Erie County Clerk, and during her time in Congress.  Former President Bill Clinton returned the favor in 2012 stumping for Hochul during an unsuccessful re-election bid.

Hochul has been the face of the Cuomo Administration’s effort to push women’s equality initiatives.  In this case she said her support of Clinton transcends gender.

“I’m not supporting Hillary Clinton because she’s a woman.  I’m supporting her because as she demonstrated in the debate the other night, she’s the most qualified.  She’s the toughest.  When it comes to dealing with Putin and other leaders around the world, I want Hillary Clinton out there backing the United States,” said Hochul.

Paladino On FBN: Trump Should Pick Me As Running Mate

Is former Republican Gubernatorial Candidate and Buffalo Businessman Carl Paladino making a case to become Donald Trump’s running mate?  It certainly appeared that way Thursday during an appearance on the Fox Business Network.

During a segment on “Cavuto Coast to Coast” Paladino unveiled a “Trump/Paladino” bumper sticker when asked who the GOP front runner should choose as his running mate.  Paladino then suggested he’d be a good choice because he’d have no problem telling Trump when he didn’t agree with him on a subject.

Paladino later clarified to Time Warner Cable News Buffalo that despite having a bumper sticker made, he was simply joking.

“This was all in jest.  I’m not anywhere near that point in my life,” Paladino said.

Control Over Rochester Photonics Initiative Still The Subject Of Debate

About two months after the tug of war over where a $600 million photonics center in Rochester should be located went public, it appears the infighting is far from over.  SUNY Polytechnic, which has consistently described itself as the lead contract designee through the Department of Defense, seemed to rekindle that battle on Monday.

“I was asked to do this to establish and strengthen relationships in the business community,” said Former Lt. Governor Bob Duffy.

SUNY Polytechnic appointed Duffy, who currently heads the Rochester Business Alliance, to lead the AIM Photonics Leadership Council. Duffy said the council will be in charge of strategy and will make key decisions for the institute that’s expected to generate hundreds if not thousands of local jobs.

“As I’ve been told this is the decision-making group for AIM Photonics. It is my hope, first and foremost, that we fulfill and really go beyond the expectation of the DOD for this effort,” said Duffy.

As a former mayor and police chief, Duffy remains a popular figure in Rochester, but his appointment appears to put him odds with some his former political allies.

“This is not a SUNY Poly initiative.  It’s an initiative of AIM Photonics and RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) and the U of R (University of Rochester) have equal standing here,” said State Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle.

Morelle joined Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in August to criticize SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Dr. Alain Kaloyeros and his apparent unwillingness to communicate with the other partners in the photonics center.  Kaloyeros’ appointment of his friend did little to alleviate his concerns

“The good news Bob Duffy is known to us, the troubling part is that this was done without the consultation of the partners and that’s a consistent and persistent criticism of this,” Morelle said.

Morelle’s understanding of Duffy’s role, and the responsibility the leadership council will have over the project seems to be different than Duffy’s.  Morelle described the body as a technical advisory board and said an overarching governance board, appointed by the Governor, will take the lead.

“Well I think the Governor needs to make the appointments to the AIM Photonics Board so we don’t have individual players who are making unilateral decision that may not be in the interests of the initiatives going forward,” Morelle said.

According to the Governor’s Office, the seven-person governance board would be made up of members from the governor’s office, SUNY, University of Rochester and RIT.  The board was announced shortly after those involved got into the aforementioned public dispute about where the center’s headquarters should go.

According to SUNY, The Leadership Council and Governance Board serve different but complimentary roles and responsibilities.  One focuses on strategy and technical matters, while the other focuses on business and economic development.

It said both boards are co-equal entities that will work together to ensure the successful growth and expansion of the photonics institute.  The Leadership Council, as required by the Department of Defense, will focus on the strategic planning and technical direction of the institute while the governance board will help oversee and implement business outreach and economic development strategy.

Duffy believes the governance board will make recommendations to the council he is leading, not the other way around.  He also downplayed the dispute between Kaloyeros and the other partners.

“If the disagreements and discussions were kept more private then this would not have been a story.  It is my belief; any vestige of bad feelings does not exist. If it does exist, I would put it on the individual,” said Duffy.

Duffy said he’ll know more about who the other members of the Leadership Council are during the group’s first meeting in Albany next Tuesday.

In the meantime, Morelle is hoping the Governor will clear up the confusion and appoint a local expert to the seven-member governance board.

“Rob Clark is one of the leading experts on optics and Photonics in the world and he was the one who chaired this until yesterday.  And his removal was troubling,” Morelle said.

Morelle is keenly aware the back and forth is bad for the future of the project and hopes all parties get on the same page soon.

“I think the last thing that we would want to see, I think the last thing the department of defense would like to see are the individual partners in this going off on their own, with their own agendas.  And that’s troubling to me and yet I think that’s what’s going to happen unless we can get SUNY Poly to act like a contributing member of a community instead of acting in their own interests,” Morelle added.

Erie County Executive Explains Investigation; AG’s Office Says Case Closed

It was story that around lunchtime appeared to have the potential to shake-up the race for Erie County Executive.  Just hours later, the Attorney General’s office seemed to mute the “alarm bells” Mark Poloncarz’s opponent was ringing.

The report, which was published online by City and State NY, detailed an AG investigation into the Erie County Department of Public Works.  Specifically, the report referenced wrongdoing by county employees, failing to competitively bid the first two phases of a reconstruction project.

“He has an obligation to come out and say what he knew, when he knew it and why he’s been keeping it a secret for the last four years,” said Poloncarz’s GOP Challenger Ray Walter.

Just minutes after Walter’s Tuesday afternoon press conference wrapped up Poloncarz called one of his own to, as Walter put it, “say what he knew.”

“I run a clean administration and people are out there trying to use this, especially since it’s election season to say Mark Poloncarz’s administration was involved in an investigation.  My administration uncovered the information and the evidence that pertains to potential improprieties,” Poloncarz said.

According to Poloncarz, the accusations date back to 2010 and 2011, under the administration of former County Executive Chris Collins.  After installing his own DPW Commissioner and Highway Department personnel, he said possible falsified claims for Consolidated Highway Improvement Program or C.H.I.P.S were brought to light.

The county, working with the State Department of Transportation, re-appropriated $2.5 million of questionable reimbursements to other projects.  Rather than go public Poloncarz decided to turn things over to the Attorney General.

“I didn’t want people to think that I was leading an investigation to basically kick dirt on the grave of Christopher Collins. I felt it was important that this matter be reviewed by an independent source,” Poloncarz said.

That source, the AG’s office, confirmed to Time Warner Cable News it did look into the matter.  A spokesperson released this statement:

“In January 2013, County Executive Mark Poloncarz requested that our office look into alleged past issues related to competitive bidding for projects at the Erie County Department of Public Works. After a thorough review, and with the full support and cooperation of County Executive Poloncarz, our office closed the case with no further action.”

Poloncarz told us to the best of his knowledge nobody who was under investigation still works for the county.  Poloncarz hopes speaking out will bring the matter to a close.

“I felt that the truth needed to get out and I didn’t want people to assume that my administration did something wrong because that’s not the case. We did nothing wrong.”

Walter still questions why a source told City and State that the target of the investigation was a “recently” terminated county worker. Following Poloncarz’s press conference a Walter spokesperson said “we look forward to further tough questions from the media.”

Former County Executive and current Congressman Chris Collins declined comment on the matter telling us it appeared everything had been cleared up.

Protest Planned After Report Buffalo Billion Project Lowered Minority Hiring Goals

The same day Governor Cuomo announced a Massachusetts-based solar company was investing $700 million and bringing up to 1,000 new jobs to Batavia, he continued to face questions over another solar-based project in Buffalo.  This, as several Buffalo-based community groups are planning to protest, claiming minority hiring goals on the construction project were lowered.

“I never heard that and I don’t believe that’s right,” Cuomo told reporters in Batavia on Wednesday.

Buffalo’s Investigative Post was the first to report state officials had agreed to lower the goals from 25 to 15 percent.  Up to 1,500 construction workers were expected to be working by this fall to get the multi-million dollar solar panel manufacturing plant up and running by next year.

“We have what’s called an MWBE (Minority and Women Business Enterprises) quota requirement on projects and I’ve never heard that the Solar City one hasn’t met that,” Cuomo added.

Several groups including B.U.I.L.D. of Buffalo, We Are Women Warriors, and Concerned Clergy of WNY are planning a protest Friday morning in front of SolarCity’s South Park Avenue construction site.  Their stated goal is to “get answers from L.P. Ciminelli and the building trades unions.”

The Governor’s office did not offer any further comment on reports the minority hiring goals were lowered.  The protest is scheduled for Friday at 10:30a.m.

Ex-Staffer Accusing Assemblywoman Of Sexual Harassment Hires Attorney Who Sued Gabryszak

The former Legislative staffer accusing Western New York Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak of sexual harassment has hired an attorney. It’s the same attorney who represented six women who raised similar complaints against Wozniak’s predecessor, former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak.

Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen has learned Wozniak’s accuser, Elias Farah, hired Niagara Falls-based attorney John Bartolomei. Bartolomei represented all but one of Gabryszak’s accusers, many of them former staffers, in 2013.

Gabryszak retired soon after the accusations came to light. That cleared the way for Wozniak, a Republican, to win the Democratic-leaning Cheektowaga-based Assembly seat, last November.

In the Gabryszak case, Bartolomei’s clients sought an astounding total of more than $2.6 billion in damages from the former Assemblyman, his Chief of Staff, the State Assembly and others. Bartolomei has not responded to several requests for comment on the Wozniak complaint.

As Whalen first reported last month, Farah’s claims are being reviewed by the Assembly Ethics Committee. Wozniak was scheduled to be the last person interviewed by an outside law professor brought in to conduct a preliminary investigation.

Wozniak is represented by Buffalo-based attorney Steven Cohen. Cohen has spoken to several media sources denouncing the claims against his client, but has since has since been advised by the Ethics Committee to keep the proceedings confidential.

Bills-Sabres Owner & Cuomo Donor Defends Fracking During 60 Minutes Sports Interview

Acknowledging the “irony” of how a business practice that’s illegal in New York State helped keep the Buffalo Bills in Western New York, billionaire Terry Pegula defended the controversial gas drilling method better known as hydro-fracking.  The Bills and Sabres owner’s comments came during an interview that aired on Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports, Tuesday night.

“I’m very proud of what I do. I’m in the oil and gas business I have been my whole life.  I believe my industry is getting some publicity it doesn’t deserve,” Pegula said.

As detailed in the 60 Minutes Sports report, Pegula turned a $7,500 loan from friends and family into the oil and gas company, East Resources Inc.  The company formed in the 1980’s and eventually became a multi-billion dollar business, thanks in part to drilling in the Marcellus Shale region across New York’s border in Pennsylvania.

In 2014, Pegula sold the gas drilling rights of thousands of acres of land in Ohio for $1.75 billion.  It was a deal that went through a little before Pegula bought the Bills for $1.4 billion.

Pegula is seen by many in Western New York as a hero for purchasing the Bills, as at least one outside bidder proposed moving the team to Toronto.  Even those who oppose fracking haven’t shied away from singing his praises, including Governor Cuomo.

Pegula was a significant donor to Governor Cuomo’s re-election campaign last year, even as it appeared his administration was moving closer to a permanent fracking ban.  The apparent ties between the two led Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Howie Hawkins to lash out at Pegula, calling his fracking profits a “scandal.”

Even as the State DEC moved to officially ban fracking this summer, the perceived mutual goal of rebuilding Buffalo continued to tie the Governor and Bills-Sabres owner together.  Pegula was careful not to criticize Cuomo or his policies directly, Tuesday night.

“There is some irony there though, is there not? Asked CBS Correspondent Jeff Glor. “It’s a practice that’s still not allowed in New York State and in large part has kept the Bills in New York State.”

“Yeah,” Pegula said. “That’s quite a twist isn’t it?”

WNY Congressman Sounds Off On Investigation Involving Former Aide

Western New York Congressman Chris Collins has never been shy about touting the skills of those who work for him or defending them from criticism when he feels it’s necessary.  Wednesday, while announcing his now former Chief of Staff has taken a new job, he offered his take on a well-publicized investigation.

“There’s nothing there and there never was anything there and it should be an embarrassment to the U.S. Attorney that this even happened,” Collins said.

Back in May, state investigators raided the Buffalo condo of former Erie County Democratic Committee Chairman Steve Pigeon. Documents and electronics were also taken from the homes of former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steve Casey and Collins’ longtime aide Chris Grant.

“It was a tragedy to put them through it, the other two individuals as well as their families, but I think it’s very telling those six months after the fact there’s not a peep or anything coming forth to suggest any wrong doing,” said Collins.

Those interviewed as part of the investigation said it centered on the Pigeon-backed political action committee the WNY Progressive Caucus. The PAC funded 2013 challenges to Democratic Party-endorsed candidates in several local races. According to several sources, Casey and Grant partnered to produce political mailers.

Pigeon’s PAC hired them to produce some of these mailers, one of which caught the attention of the Erie County Board of Elections. By phone Wednesday night, Pigeon had no comment. Collins did.

“Call it the political witch-hunt of the Attorney General, calling the press to watch folks show up at someone’s house to take away electronic information and trying to suggest that somehow work wasn’t done when the Buffalo News themselves did all the printing of the direct mail, makes it laughable on its face,” Collins said

As first reported by the Buffalo News, Grant, who was not available for comment Wednesday night, announced he’s taking a position with Axiom Strategies. The company is the largest GOP direct-mail political consulting firm in the country and Collins said they fully vetted Grant and the AG’s investigation before hiring him.

Multiple sources tell Time Warner Cable News they believe the investigation is still open but at least one person familiar with the case said it is odd there’s been no movement. Neither the U.S. Attorney’s office nor the Attorney General’s office had immediate comment Wednesday night.

Buffalo-based U.S. Attorney William Hochul recused himself early on because he’s married to Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul. Sources tell us the case was handled by Hochul’s assistant, J.P. Kennedy.

“I knew all along there was nothing there and it’s not the way law enforcement should conduct themselves, but in New York State we’ve seen overzealous folks trying to get the press (there) before and it happened again and I hope at some point they stand up and admit that everything they did was politically based and inappropriate and apologize to Mr. Grant,” Collins said.

Grant, 34, spent a decade with Collins serving as his chief-of-staff when he was Erie County Executive before assuming the same role when Collins was elected to Congress in 2012.

“I am going to miss him a lot but he is going to be working for the top political consulting firm in the country and I intend to, when needed, to avail myself of his services as client of his,” Collins said.  “So I’m sorry to see him go but I always like to see folks on my staff move up into new positions that recognize their abilities.”

Erie County DA Fires Back Against ‘Times’ Article While Announcing Bid for Judgeship

For Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita the timing certainly could have been better.  It’s not clear exactly how long he’s planned on seeking a State Supreme Court Judgeship, but it’s likely he was eyeing the post well before a high profile case landed on his desk last month.

“I have made a conscious decision not to comment on the (Patrick) Kane matter, as I have done.  This is something I’ve done in every single similar matter we’ve had since I’ve been district attorney,” said Sedita.

Sedita’s silence on the alleged rape investigation of the Chicago Blackhawks star didn’t stop a New York Times columnist from running a critical report on his handling of the case.  Reports circulated that Sedita planned to present the case to a grand jury and had thensuspended” the grand jury while Kane and his accuser negotiated an out-of-court settlement.

Former Federal Prosecutor Paul Shechtman was quoted, “Most prosecutors would say if your victim does not want to cooperate you have a nightmarish case. But to stop a grand jury really does send the message that justice is for sale.”

When Time Warner Cable News reached out to Shechtman about his part in the article the attorney had no comment but did express surprise he had been quoted.

The critical Times article was published just two days before Sedita announced he was seeking the endorsement of both the Erie County Democrat and Republican Parties for one of two open State Supreme Court Judgeships.  The article forced Sedita to at least bend his own policy and respond to reporter questions related to the Kane case.

“It was outrageous.  It was full of factual misrepresentations.  The reporter never bothered to call me, never bothered to interview me.  He was taking unwarranted shots.  He makes several factual, simple factual inaccuracies. I read it and I was just shaking my head,” Sedita said.

Kane’s attorney, Paul Cambria confirmed to Time Warner Cable News last week that the Grand Jury proceeding had been postponed, but could not elaborate on why.

“I don’t know this columnist.  This columnist never called me.  Why a sports columnist in the New York Times would be taking shots at me, I don’t know.  I can’t give you an answer to that,” Sedita said.

Former State Attorney General and Republican Dennis Vacco had very public differences with Sedita in the past over his handling of certain cases.  In this instance, Vacco called the criticism unfair.

“(The Times is) not recognizing, necessarily, the steps that he has to carefully go through to bring together evidence in a very high-profile case such as this and that speed isn’t always the best thing for any of the parties in terms of seeking justice,” said Vacco.

As time goes by and Kane returns to work, Vacco believes the speculation and pressure that comes along with the case will only increase.

“When you have such intense press scrutiny it does ratchet up the pressure.  The pressure of getting it right goes up just dramatically,” Vacco added.

Sedita, a Democrat, was cross-endorsed by the GOP in 2012 during his bid for re-election as the Erie County District Attorney.  It’s unclear if the attention around the Kane case will have any impact on his effort to get the backing of both parties for Supreme Court Judge.  Something he’s actively seeking.

“I’m hopeful.  That obviously makes things a lot easier, a lot less expensive,” said Sedita.

According to July campaign disclosures, Sedita had about $175,000 in his coffers.  Sedita has practiced law for 30 years; almost all of that time was spent in the DA’s office.

For Sedita, a seat on the bench would be a dream come true.

“I think for most lawyers it’s the pinnacle of your career.  It’s what you want to do, to preside over matters and to ensure that justice is done,” he added