PARLATO: Why is Maziarz Working for Company He Implied Fleeced City?

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Former State Senator George Maziarz now works for a company he once criticized for their role in the courthouse scandal.

 

By: Frank Parlato

George Maziarz, 67, has landed on his feet.

Once the most powerful Republican in Niagara County, he spent years in comparative obscurity after resigning from the NY State Senate amid a corruption probe in 2014.

The Republican senator from Newfane controlled scores of jobs and decided which candidates got to run for political office, or appointed to various boards on towns and villages, for nearly 17 years. He had over a million dollars in his political campaign fund and had no qualms spending it to get favored candidates elected and enemies defeated.

He paid for favors with taxpayer money, giving jobs to supporters and donors and arranging for lucrative contracts with the state and county for those who towed the line and donated to his political causes.

It all came crashing down on him in 2014 when he learned he was under investigation by state prosecutors for corruption. By 2017, he was charged with five felony counts as part of an alleged scheme which saw payments funneled through a pair of companies so that the name of a former staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment, wouldn’t show up on the senator’s public campaign filings.

He spent years defending himself and ultimately secured a plea deal for a misdemeanor charge of filing a false instrument in March 2018 that allowed him to avoid trial.  Maziarz paid a $1,000 fine after admitting to one count of offering a false instrument for filing, as part of the scheme to cover up payments.

During the four long years he was under a cloud, fighting to secure his freedom, he lost his power hold on the Republican party – as politicians, donors, and political operatives avoided him like the plague.

However, Maziarz has a long memory and time has shown he holds grudges, lots of them. After taking his misdemeanor conviction, he went after former allies and friends, trying to settle scores and regain lost power in Niagara County. The stories of his vendettas are legendary in Niagara County among politicos in the know.

He tried to get former staffers indicted for stealing from his campaign fund. He tried to get his former best man at his wedding indicted for a county grant project he had no role in, and went after former allies and in one case a spouse, trying to ruin careers, get people fired, get investigations started and mailing distorted, misleading campaign mailers against those of his enemies who ran for office.

 

Largo owner Gary Coscia hit big on the Niagara Falls Courthouse – socking it to local taxpayers in what might be one of the biggest rip-offs in recent Niagara Falls history.

 

He was successful in none of it and it only made him more nuclear than ever. Many politicians who would have been only too glad for the chance to do a favor for Maziarz back in the day won’t even take his calls.

Happily, most of this went on behind the scenes and he got work in the private sector with Gary Coscia and his Largo Group, a privately owned commercial mortgage banking firm. Maziarz is in a senior management role with Largo, in charge of new business.

It’s ironic that Maziarz landed at the company since, when he was a powerful senator, he condemned Largo’s handling of the Niagara Falls Public Safety [AKA Courthouse] building on Main Street, a building that today, some 12 years after it was built, continues to plague the city by its high cost of debt payment and shoddy workmanship.

Former Niagara Falls Controller Maria Brown estimated several years ago that the cost of the courthouse was an exorbitant $500,000 per year with debt service, multitudinous repairs, and other costly expenses.

The story of Largo’s role in the courthouse is an extraordinary one – and at the time Maziarz was right to call it for what it was – an enormous rip- off of the public.

This is part #1 of our analysis of the scandal:

The Public Safety Building [Courthouse] was planned under former Mayor Vince Anello and constructed during Mayor Paul A. Dyster’s administration.  

After it was built then-State Senator Maziarz described the courthouse as a “$22 million building, we paid $50 million for.”

 

The end product was a hugely overpriced, rather incongruous building, that costs the city a fortune to operate and pay for.

 

The Scandal Was in Plain Sight

A Limited liability Corporation, called CLP3 LLC, a partnership between recently-convicted-for-bid-rigging, Buffalo developer Louis P. Ciminelli and Gary Coscia, owner of Largo, built the courthouse. The original contract was for $44,600,000.

During construction, Coscia [CLP3] put in for millions of dollars in “change orders” — work that was not in the original contract but should have been.

According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information request, there were more than 200 change orders approved by Dyster’s administration during construction.

It is important to note that Coscia and Dyster went to high school together and Coscia made numerous donations to the Dyster campaign, so that they were well prepped to be amiable to change construction plans after they inked the deal.

Some of the 200 plus change orders increased the price, while others downgraded materials and quality of construction, like changing railings from stainless steel to wood, and using inferior ceiling tiles.

When work was done, the courthouse project cost more than $47,845,587. Taxpayers paid more than $3 million more than the contract price and got a vastly inferior building than what was described in the contract.

By hiking the price and reducing quality through the arguably dishonest process of preplanning change orders, then applying for them, taxpayers got ripped off for likely more than $6 million, three million more on the price tag and three million in cheaper materials and other cost savings on items that were in the original contract but never delivered.

How Did It Happen?

To recount a little history, Dyster fired former city engineer Bob Curtis on day one of his administration, just as work on the courthouse began.  A city engineer’s job is to monitor major public works projects such as a courthouse.  Dyster did not hire another engineer until after the courthouse was largely finished.

It is a matter of record that prior to their starting construction, Curtis criticized Ciminelli and Coscia warning that Niagara Falls would get hit hard with change orders if these two developers were not monitored. [Ciminelli is headed to prison for just this kind of bid rigging behavior in Buffalo, in connection to the Buffalo Billion].

Curtis suggested taking the project away from Coscia and Ciminelli and doing the courthouse as a public works project. Those comments got Curtis fired.

Then came the massive change order scheme. There was no semblance of adherence to the contract. Coscia and Ciminelli, unbelievably, were the foxes who were watching the henhouse.

Some of the change orders Dyster granted to Coscia, without ever monitoring price or the necessity of the change in the work, were [and remember all of these costs were not included in the original contract but should have been, but were “change orders’]: $24,914 for a plan to revise a storm pipe [not the pipe itself – just the paperwork]; $33,377 for a storage garage. A water valve: $2,282. A blueprint for a garage door: $24,000. Door modification: $1,244. Work to assist Verizon: $10,804. A ditch for underground cable: $13,881. Grading the parking lot: $40,649. Telephone outlets: $4,200. Outlet(s) in the jury box: $1,444. Circuits for phones: $2,684. More outlets: $8,894. “Unforeseen conditions”: $110,581. Normal project changes: $25,228. And – significantly – environmental cleanup: $2,564,035.

 

Former Mayor Paul Dyster had one amiable quality; he always took care of his campaign donors.

 

That’s right — $2.5 million for environmental cleanup that Coscia and Ciminelli knew full well they would have to do — but chose to leave the figure blank in the original contract.

It was smart thinking. Once into the project, the city could not easily get another developer, and Coscia and Ciminelli held the city hostage and named their price.

Happily, it was not Dyster’s money. It was financed by taxpayers – and in the end his two donors – Ciminelli and Coscia – were elated with the good mayor and his lack of oversight.

The mad runaway of expenses was in part a comedy of errors for the then nearly hapless city council. It was actually months into construction — after much of the work was completed — before the council even realized that Dyster had no controls in place to monitor Coscia and Ciminelli and the flood of change orders the city was approving almost daily was all but done.

This gave Dyster a chance to hire another campaign donor. Dyster had fired his city engineer Curtis – on the day before the work was started. After the work was almost completed, Dyster hired LiRo Engineers Inc., of Buffalo, to be the city’s project manager, at $14,600 per month.

LiRo was touted as having no connection to Coscia or Ciminelli. However, LiRo’s engineer, David Jaros, was a longtime friend and supporter of Dyster. Curtis had made $6,000 per month as city engineer and would have watched Ciminelli and Coscia, as well as doing other duties for the city. He had promised to hold Coscia’s feet to the fire.

By the time LiRo made its first report, in July 2008, the price had jumped millions and the work was almost done.

Maziarz was Right About Coscia  

The city vastly overpaid for the Courthouse.  Maziarz was right.

Reeds Construction Data’s study of 25 American cities revealed that courthouses and jails, even in expensive-to-build places like New York City, where unions, bureaucracy and corruption through kickbacks and backdoor deals are a way of life, were built for under $275 per square foot.

The Niagara Falls courthouse cost $415 per square foot, making it the most expensive courthouse per square foot in America up till that time.

And guess who got the profits?

Still, why did Dyster turn a blind eye to Ciminelli and Coscia?  Why didn’t he hire a city engineer until the courthouse was finished?

Dyster is not a man who forgets a favor. It is a well-known that Ciminelli and Coscia knew how to play the game.  Coscia helped Dyster enormously during his run for mayor during the summer of 2007 – especially by befriending, then sabotaging his opponent.

Dyster was running against then Councilman Lewis “Babe” Rotella. Rotella had, ironically, fought hard during the Anello administration for Coscia to get the courthouse contract.

Anello loudly complained that the Coscia and Ciminelli combine was a recipe for carpetbagging in this city.

But Coscia was smart. He initially supported Rotella when he needed his council vote.

During the primary, however, after he got Rotella and the council vote to give Coscia the contract – against Anello’s wishes, it appeared that Rotella was badly trailing Dyster in the polls.

Coscia understood that Rotella was going to lose, and he also understood that construction would be done during the next mayor’s term. A hostile mayor might scrutinize the project too closely. Change orders might not get approved.

Coscia quietly threw his support behind Dyster. The story of how they deceived Rotella is a great story in itself.

Several sources say Coscia and Ciminelli, in addition to open donations made to Dyster, arranged for donations through other individuals. Dyster and campaign aides repeatedly, secretly met with Ciminelli/Coscia representatives during the campaign.

But the great service Coscia afforded to Dyster, according to sources, was, while pretending to support Rotella, Coscia planted a spy in the Rotella campaign to report back to the Dyster camp.

This woman was later rewarded by being employed by Coscia and CiminelIi.

This led to another revelation: While Coscia and Ciminelli could have started construction on the courthouse during the campaign season of 2007, when Rotella could have taken credit, it was alleged that Ciminelli/Coscia deliberately delayed groundbreaking until after the election – as a favor to Dyster.

Rotella told the Reporter at the time that he was furious with Coscia over this betrayal.

Of course, Coscia showed he had the same good instincts as his employee Maziarz.  He knew which side of bread the butter was spread.

And Dyster returned the favor, again and again with taxpayer money, starting by firing Curtis and allowing Coscia and Ciminelli to monitor their own work on the courthouse.

The result was that Niagara Falls added better than $3 million to the cost of the courthouse and cheapened the quality of it by probably an equal amount.

And two developers got the difference. Today, the courthouse, in yellow brick, cocked at an angle not perpendicular to the street, with an odd, ugly and obscure misrepresentation of the old suspension bridge for an entrance way, stares back at us as an ugly reminder of our inept leadership, of greedy politicians and questionable businessmen, and potential corruption.

In our next in the series, we will explore how Coscia maneuvered the city council to up the price on the courthouse from an initial $20 million to almost $50 million.  We will explore how Coscia originally promised to arrange the financing for the city on a lease arrangement then reneged – at tremendous cost to taxpayers, obviating the very reason for his selection as developer.

The city had to float an expensive bond and wound up not only paying more for the courthouse because of corrupt or inept construction but also much more for financing because Coscia misled the city on financing. It is all a matter of public record. The Reporter could write a dozen stories on Coscia and how he wound up with luxury condos in Saratoga, Toronto, and New York City.

Hopefully, we will also examine his role in other scandals, including potentially false charges he fomented against one of his competitors in Rochester, New York, who had the audacity to compete against him for mortgage lending work.

Why Did Maziarz Go to Work for Coscia?  

Largo’s website claims, “During his time as a senator, Maziarz chaired the Energy and Telecommunications Committee, leading the charge for private and public investments in those sectors of the economy.  Largo is Upstate New York’s largest privately owned commercial mortgage banking firm. At Largo, he will continue to work closely with companies seeking to invest in New York, by assisting commercial real estate owners/developers with their financing needs. and is headquartered in Maziarz’s native Western New York.”

Clearly Coscia sees a value in having a kindred spirit on board – even if he once called him out on it. Still it is a curious pairing to say the least. Companies that might hope to reap windfall profits from taxpayers, provided they can pay the cost of friendship with this odd couple, might be well advised to contact them. They might yet get to build a $20 million building for $50 million courtesy of the taxpayers, with Coscia arranging the financing or as Maziarz once implied – the fleecing. 

A call to Largo media representative was not returned. A request for comment made to Maziarz was declined.

 

 

**attorney advertising**


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