Nearly a year after first requesting the records, Investigative Post filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the Federal Bureau of Investigations, arguing that the agency is unlawfully withholding thousands of pages of documents.
Some of the records are related to the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. which is currently under FBI investigation. The FBI says it has the records, but wants to take more than four years to review and release them.
“The information contained in the requested records will allow Investigative Post to bring transparency and accountability to OTB and its public officials in order to protect the public against the misuse of taxpayer funds,” the lawsuit states.
“The requested information will significantly contribute to the public’s understanding of government operations and activities.”
Last February, Investigative Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI for various records and reports. The news outlet asked for records the FBI generated in the course of investigations that contained mention of Western Regional OTB, among other public agencies and officials.
Investigative Post reported in 2019 that the FBI was investigating OTB for allegedly granting contracts to politically connected individuals and companies. The records in the FBI’s possession likely relate to that case, or to a previous probe into former state Sen. George Maziarz, who had political ties to the agency. Maziarz, a Niagara County Republican, has previously released some of the FBI records from his case but the FBI itself has never released documents pertaining to either case.
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Western District of New York, is the first such lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act for the 12-year-old nonprofit investigative news outlet. Investigative Post is being represented by attorney Michael Higgins and lawyers-in-training from the University at Buffalo Law School Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic, as well as Joseph Finnerty and Karim Abdulla from the media law firm Finnerty Osterreicher & Abdulla.
In June, the FBI informed Investigative Post that it had located some 2,664 pages of records dated from 1983 to 2023 responsive to the FOIA request. The agency, however, said it would take some 55 months to process the request and turn over records. At that pace, the FBI would review fewer than 50 pages per month.
Investigative Post wants the FBI to review and release the records sooner.
In recent years, Investigative Post has written more than 40 stories about OTB. That reporting has shed light on the expensive health insurance given to board members, the perks enjoyed by President and CEO Henry Wojtaszek, agency officials’ use of Buffalo Bills and Sabres tickets and suites, and the army of lawyers and consultants OTB pays to fend off audits, critical lawmakers and reforms. Investigative Post has also written extensively about OTB’s various legal troubles, including the multiple investigations and audits it has faced over the years.
In April, Investigative Post filed a second FOIA request with the FBI seeking financial records. The agency denied that request less than a week later, saying it would neither confirm nor deny the existence of the records. Investigative Post appealed the denial to no avail.
Investigative Post is requesting that a judge compel the FBI to immediately release records pertinent to the first request and to search for and release records pertinent to the second request. The lawsuit also seeks attorney fees.