Attorney charges OTB intimidating witness

A ranking administrator is cooperating with the FBI as they probe OTB. His lawyer says he's being punished as a result.

The attorney for a senior manager of the Western Regional Off Track Betting Corp. says his client is being punished for cooperating with a federal investigation of the agency.

Federal investigators apparently consider the allegation of witness intimidation serious enough that they have subpoenaed records from the OTB to review the matter.

“He’s being intimidated because he’s cooperating,” Steven Cohen, the senior manager’s attorney, said. “All my client is doing is not lying to federal investigators.”

Not only are OTB Chairman Richard Bianchi and President Henry Wojtaszek retaliating against his client, Cohen contends, but they have falsified OTB records.

“Henry Wojtaszek and Richard Bianchi appear to be engaging in witness intimidation and in covering things up,” Cohen said. “They’re changing records. Changing documents.”

The OTB is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation. Areas of interest include contract awards, the lavish health insurance board members receive and the distribution of tickets to Bills and Sabres games.

Cohen said his client was approached for questioning by the FBI earlier this year, after it launched an investigation of OTB. The criminal division of the state comptroller and state Gaming Commission are also investigating OTB operations. Cohen said OTB officials began retaliating against his client when they learned he had spoken the FBI.

“From that moment on he was isolated, he was put on an island,” Cohen said. “And Henry Wojtaszek and Richard Bianchi, the chairman of the board, pulled responsibilities from him, prevented him from access to records and stopped talking to him.”

Cohen said his client has recently received a poor job evaluation from Wojtaszek after years of receiving sterling reviews.

Wojtaszek first evaluated Cohen’s client in 2017. “Very hard worker. Dependable. Excellent people skills,” he wrote. The overall employee rating was 3.56 out of five.

In 2018, Wojtazek described Cohen’s client as having “good communication,” and “excellent relationships with vendors, regulators, municipal officials.” Wojtaszek awarded a score of 3.77 out five.

“Suggest excellent ideas which are good for company (sic),” Wojtaszek said in his evaluation.

That changed in 2019, when the senior manager’s evaluation score dropped to 1.556 out of five. It included criticism of the way the “purchasing/procurement” department was handled.

“He does the bare minimum,” the job review document said. “He needs to show more initiative.”

“The employee has set no known goals for employment. He shows no initiative to go the extra mile,” it continued, noting projects that were unsatisfactorily overseen.

Cohen’s client was apparently the only member of the management team not given a raise by the OTB board earlier this month, the attorney said.

Cohen said he complained to Terry Connors, an attorney representing OTB in the federal probe, after the retaliation began.

“Not only didn’t that discussion with their attorney put a stop to it, but it increased, it intensified,” Cohen said.

Cohen said his client has been ostracized at OTB headquarters in Batavia.

“It’s been made clear to the other employees at Western Regional OTB that you have to stay away and not talk with my client,” Cohen said.

“His own secretary for the past eight years, someone who is as loyal to the organization as my client, has been directed to keep Henry apprised of all emails that come, all emails that go out, all calls that come in, all calls that go out.”

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Mark Gabriele, an OTB staff attorney, sent an email to board members Dec. 12 informing them that federal authorities served a subpoena demanding personnel records of the senior manager represented by Cohen. Cohen said the subpoena followed his client’s discussion with the local U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“It was the U.S. Attorney’s Office who said, ‘Well, we don’t take kindly to intimidating our witnesses,’ ” he said.

Cohen took issue with what he said was OTB’s refusal to cover his client’s legal expenses in responding to investigators.

“Those costs under public officer’s law are supposed to be borne by the organization,” Cohen said. “They’ve refused to pay a dime.”

Bianchi, the OTB chairman, did not respond to an interview request. Wojtaszek and Connors declined interview requests.

Connors provided a one-sentence statement: “The board of Western Region OTB has instructed our firm to respond appropriately to any subpoena we receive and that is what we have done and continue to do.”

Ryan Hasenauer, OTB’s marketing director, issued this statement:

“Western Region OTB follows a standard protocol in connection with all employee evaluations. WROTB does not discuss employee evaluations or other personnel matters. However, the attorney for one employee has made some public allegations. In response, WROTB  will confirm that a discussion occurred in an effort to improve the performance of that employee. The employee was permitted to record the discussion. The employee is free to release his recording if he thinks it will support his allegations.”