Jul 10


Contract extensions for 18 OTB executives

Just prior to reforms enacted by the state Legislature, the OTB board provided job security to CEO Henry Wojtaszek and 17 of his executives. OTB then tried to cover its tracks, forced to disclose its actions because of a public records request.

Days before state lawmakers stripped them of their duties amid concerns about corruption within the organization, the board of the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. signed off on multi-year contract extensions for 18 top executives. Among them was CEO and President Henry Wojtaszek, who received a three-and-half year extension that pays him more than the governor of New York. 

OTB officials refused to voluntarily provide details of the contract extensions, and instead required the Niagara Gazette to file a request for the documents under the state Freedom of Information Law.

Those documents, obtained by the Gazette late Friday, show Wojtaszek now earns $272,000 per year.That’s more than Gov. Kathy Hochul ($225,000), Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz ($131,391), and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown ($158,500, scheduled to increase to $178,519 in January).

Wojtaszek, in a statement, told the Gazette: “We don’t comment on personnel matters, nor do we check the salaries of elected officials when making hiring decisions.

“Salaries and wages are consistent with the Casino and Hospitality industry and based on performance. Our staff does exemplary work that has resulted in consecutive years of record revenue including our best week ever, which just happened from July 2nd – July 8th.”

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Wojtaszek’s contract and similar deals for the 17 other executives were approved by OTB’s  board on April 27, six days before they were ousted from their positions under language included in the state budget adopted May 2. 

Eight of the employee agreements include six-figure salaries. 

The list of top earners includes one of Wojtaszek’s longest-tenured political allies, Scott Kiedrowski. He’s the former clerk-treasurer in the City of North Tonawanda who, like Wojtaszek, previously served as chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party. Now, as chief operating officer, he is paid $165,168 per year. 

His salary ranks as the third highest at OTB, behind Wojtaszek and Chief Financial Officer Jacquelyne Leach, whose new contract pays her $222,000 annually.

All of the executive contracts have effective dates of either April 27 or May 2, 2023. The majority of them end on Dec. 31, 2025. 

The deals for Wojtaszek, Leach, Kiedrowski, White and Schiano have termination dates of a year later, or Dec. 31, 2026. 

OTB thus far has not responded to requests from the Gazette as to what the 18 executives were making prior to the approval of the contracts, so it’s not clear if raises were involved. It’s also unclear if any of the 18 executives previously had multi-year contracts, as OTB wouldn’t comment on that, either.

All of the agreements included provisions for salary reviews each fiscal year with the possibility of pay increases if deemed appropriate by board directors. 

Wojtaszek's contract entitles him to receive additional compensation each year for what the contract describes as "necessary and reasonable business expenses." While the clause does not cover Wojtaszek's cost for leasing or purchasing a vehicle used for business purposes, the contract indicates that he is eligible for mileage reimbursement.

The contract provides Wojtaszek with five weeks vacation per year, as well as OTB-funded health insurance and other benefits. 

Provided Wojtaszek leaves the job under what the contract refers to as "good reason," he would be entitled to severance pay and benefits, including payment of base salary through his termination date and compensation for accrued vacation and unreimbursed business expenses. 

The contracts for the other executives include similar terms. 

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Board meeting minutes available on OTB's website show directors met on April 27 behind closed doors in executive session. The minutes show the board subsequently approved, in open session, what are only described as "employee contracts." No further details were provided.

A tally of the vote shows all 14 of the board's 17 directors who were present for the April 27 meeting voted in favor of approving the contracts. They included Niagara County representative Elliott Winter and Francis Warthling, who represents Erie County. Records show directors Michelle Parmer-Garner from Buffalo, Paul Lattimore Jr. from Cayuga County and Phil Barnes from Schuyler County were absent from the meeting. 

The board also voted on April 27 to retain John Owens, an attorney with the Rochester law firm of Gallo & Iacovangelo. Owens will be paid $64,800 per year, or $5,400 per-month, for assistance with "general counsel matters."  

During a June 5 interview with a reporter and members of the editorial board from the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal newspapers, Wojtaszek acknowledged the board awarded himself, White and Kiedrowski three-year employment deals. 

At the time, Wojtaszek did not provide any additional information. Asked for copies of the employment contracts, he told the Gazette to file an FOI request.

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Defined under state law as a public benefit corporation, OTB manages betting parlors and EZ Bet locations across Western New York. It draws the bulk of its revenue from Batavia Downs, a complex in Genesee County that includes a casino, hotel and harness racing track.

The public entity distributes 49 percent of its profits to the state. The balance is shared with the cities of Buffalo and Rochester and 15 counties in Western and Central New York. Operations are overseen by a board of directors appointed by lawmakers in those counties and cities. 

In addition to removing all 17 members of the board, the state budget language created a new voting structure with a weighted vote based on population. That shifts power from rural counties controlled by Republicans to cities and urban counties controlled by Democrats. 

That, in turn, could threaten Wojtaszek’s job security. 

Republicans claimed the change amounted to a power grab. Democrats maintained reforms were needed in light of what Sen. Tim Kennedy termed a “pervasive culture of corruption.”

OTB has been the target of an ongoing investigation by the FBI and critical audits by the state Comptroller. Contentious issues include gold-plated health insurance provided the board’s part-time members, the use of tickets to concerts and sporting events by OTB executives and board members, and the awarding of contracts to politically connected vendors.

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