Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. awarded $40,000 in bonuses to its top executives in January, even as federal and state investigators continued a probe into allegations of malfeasance at the public benefit corporation.
At OTB’s January 19 board meeting, the 13 directors present voted unanimously to award a bonus of $12,000 to Henry Wojtaszek, president and chief executive officer.
Including the bonus awarded by the board, Wojtaszek is making more than $200,000 in salary, plus benefits.
The board also awarded bonuses of $6,000 each to Scott Kiedrowski and William White, both vice presidents, and $6,000 to Jacquelyne Leach, chief financial officer. According to meeting minutes, the bonuses were awarded to recognize “outstanding performance” in “overcoming a challenging and stressful working environment.”
The previous month, the board approved paying up to $20,000 to the Buffalo law firm Personius Melber to advise OTB employees who were questioned by state and federal investigators about “past operations and activities,” according to meeting minutes.
The allocation was first reported by the Niagara Gazette.
“Our law firm is representing certain employees of Western Regional Off-Track Betting who are being interviewed regarding different matters related to the operations of regional off track betting,” Rodney Personius, a partner with the firm, told the Gazette’s Mark Scheer in January.
“It’s part of an effort on the part of OTB to cooperate with that investigation.”
Sources told Investigative Post in December and January more than 20 OTB employees were slated for interviews by state and federal investigators. OTB did not respond to inquiries regarding those interviews at the time.
Investigative Post has reported that OTB has been the subject of numerous investigations and audits by federal authorities, the state comptroller’s office, the state attorney general’s office and the state gaming commission.
Investigative Post has published more than two dozen stories about OTB since 2018, detailing the improper award of high-end health insurance to its board members; extravagant spending on luxury boxes at Bills and Sabres games, as well as concerts and other sporting events; and a federal whistleblower lawsuit filed by former OTB chief executive officer Michael Nolan, who claimed he faced retaliation by Wojtaszek and ultimately was fired for cooperating with investigators looking into OTB’s practices.
Nolan’s lawsuit was dismissed as untimely last year. Nolan is appealing that dismissal.
Western Regional OTB was created by state lawmakers in 1973 to curb the black market hold on bookmaking and provide revenues to local governments. It is owned by 15 counties in western and central New York, plus the cities of Buffalo and Rochester. It operates betting parlors, betting kiosks in restaurants and bars, and a casino and harness racing track at Batavia Downs, which also includes a hotel and restaurant.
Each year OTB dispenses a portion of its profits to its government owners, divided based on population. Erie County, as the most populous government owner, receives the biggest cut.
Two weeks before the January board meeting, OTB reported it had enjoyed a “record breaking 2022” and would distribute $9.6 million in profits to the 17 governments that own the operation.
In 2021, OTB reported $5.8 million in profits, after tanking in 2020, when COVID shutdowns limited its distributions to member governments to $722,000.
Last summer, Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick fired off a series of letters to Wojtaszek, asking the OTB chief to provide answers — and documents — explaining, among other matters, why OTB continued to provide health insurance to board members, despite numerous opinions that doing so was improper. Hardwick also asked for information about the construction and purchase of the hotel serving Batavia Downs.
At first Wojtaszek advised Hardwick to file a Freedom of Information request for the information he sought. (OTB has dragged its heels on satisfying such requests in the past.) Then, in an October person-to-person meeting, he assured Hardwick that he would provide the comptroller with the requested documents.
Apparently, he did not.
Last month, Hardwick sent Wojtaszek yet another letter, titled “Unanswered Questions Regarding WROTB Operations.”
Hardwick noted his inquiries began last July.
“Yet, four months later, some questions have received partial answers, while most went unanswered altogether. My office has engaged in repeated phone and email contact with you, without success,” Hardwick wrote.