May 16


Attorney General’s inaction on OTB

Letitia James has yet to respond to OTB defying a ruling from her office that prohibits board members from accepting free health, dental and vision insurance

Last fall, an attorney representing New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli asked Attorney General Letitia James to take yet another look at the gold-plated health insurance Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. is still providing to its part-time board directors. 

The comptroller’s referral, made in September, called on the attorney general’s Taxpayer Protection Bureau to take “appropriate action,” noting that DiNapoli’s office deemed the practice “impermissible” in keeping with a prior attorney general’s opinion that “unambiguously” stated the same. 

It’s now been nearly eight months since the referral was made. 

What has the attorney general’s Taxpayers Protection Bureau done in that time?

There’s no evidence to suggest it has done anything.

If it has, representatives from James’ office aren’t saying. 

In April, in response to inquiries from Investigative Post, a spokesperson for James said the attorney general’s office planned to respond. No response ever came.

A DiNapoli spokesperson told Investigative Post the comptroller has not received any updates from the attorney general’s office either. 

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The lack of action from the attorney general drew criticism last week from former state Sen. George Maziarz, who has filed a lawsuit against OTB officials, alleging they have misused agency funds. 

During a series of press conferences Thursday following the filing of the lawsuit, Maziarz pointed to what he said were the “unlawful” health insurance perks for OTB directors as one example of the agency’s disregard for taxpayers.

“These health insurance benefits are the best and most expensive health insurance benefits you can buy, and it’s paid for by New York State taxpayers,” he said. 

The attorney general’s office previously weighed in on the matter in 2008, determining that OTB board directors are not eligible to receive health insurance through the agency.   

In 2019, attorneys from Barclay Damon, a law firm hired by OTB to examine the issue, recommended agency directors stop accepting the benefits. 

OTB, a public benefit corporation that manages Batavia Downs harness track and casino and off-track betting locations across western and central New York, provides free health, dental and vision insurance to its 16 board directors who are required to attend two meetings per month. Board members who serve for at least 10 years are eligible for lifetime coverage. In 2017, Investigative Post reported that 13 of 17 active board members received coverage that cost OTB $229,800. 

Following Maziarz’s press conferences last week, CEO Henry Wojtaszek challenged the former senator’s assertion that providing OTB board members health insurance is “illegal.”  Wojtaszek said the attorneys hired by OTB did recommend the practice be discontinued. But he also cited an“older comptroller’s opinion” dating back to 1978 that suggested, contrary to Maziarz’s assertion, that providing the health insurance was permissible. 

Jennifer Freeman, a spokesperson for DiNapoli, told Investigative Post that the state comptroller has “repeatedly and unambiguously” informed the OTB that the “old 1978 opinion” was “directly repudiated” years ago as part of audit reports done in 2007 and again by the attorney general’s office in its 2008 opinion.  

“While we will not comment on pending litigation, we urge the OTB to take appropriate action to recover improperly spent monies,” she said.