Jun 27


Embattled Wojtaszek leaving OTB

Wojtaszek, the subject of controversy and target of investigations, will leave at the end of the year with a generous buyout. Two other top officials are leaving, as well.

Henry Wojtaszek, OTB’s president and CEO. Photo by Garrett Looker.

Henry Wojtaszek, the president and CEO of Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., will depart the public gambling agency at the end of the year.

Two other top officials at OTB will depart early next year.

According to a resolution passed by the OTB board of directors Thursday morning, Wojtaszek will continue to work for the agency until the end of the year. At that point, he will be paid an additional one year’s salary of $287,000 as a buyout. 

Jacquelyne Leach, the longtime chief financial officer for OTB, will depart early next year. She’ll receive $117,000 as a buyout and continue to work through the end of February.

William White, vice president of administration, will leave in April next year and receive a buyout of $84,000.

The buyouts will be paid for with OTB funds, which are considered public monies. Profits from OTB’s operation, which include a casino, hotel, betting parlors and harness racing track, are shared among the two cities and 15 counties that own the agency.

All three executives received raises in January, their second in a year after earning initial pay bumps in first-ever contracts last spring. Those contracts were set to run through 2026. Leach’s annual salary is $234,500; White’s is $167,500. Wojtaszek’s salary of $287,000 places him among the highest-paid public officials in New York. He earns more than Gov. Kathy Hochul.

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The OTB board of directors Thursday voted on a resolution approving the departures and buyouts, board members told Investigative Post, though a copy of the resolution was not posted online or made immediately available.

New York State Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, questioned whether the board’s move is legal under the state’s Severance Pay Limitation Act, which limits severance for at-will employees of New York public authorities to no more than 12 weeks’ pay.

Wallace sponsored the bill in 2018. It was signed in 2019 by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo following approval by the state legislature. The act was designed to prevent officials at public authorities from authorizing large severance packages for employees, often referred to as “golden parachutes.”

During an interview on Thursday, Wallace said the buyouts authorized by OTB’s board most certainly violate the spirit of the law and, in her opinion, the letter of the law as well.

“It seems like trying to pay him the money before he leaves, they are trying to get around it,” she said, referring to Wojtaszek’s buyout. “It’s very clear what they are doing is trying to give him a golden parachute.”

“Otherwise, why are they giving him this money, if it’s not a golden parachute?” She added.

Wallace said if OTB’s board moves forward with making the buyout payments, she will request a review by the state comptroller and the state attorney general to determine if they are allowed under the Severance Pay Limitation Act.

“I think it’s illegal so I would urge the board to rethink its decision,” she said. “If they don’t, I would encourage either the comptroller or the attorney general’s office or both to look into whether this violates the law.”

It’s unclear who will replace Wojtaszek to helm OTB, which has been mired in controversy during much of his tenure. Paul Bartow, the board member representing Schuyler County, said the agency will conduct a national search for a successor. Bartow said he and other board members are looking forward to working together to find a replacement for Wojtaszek.

“I feel good about the way everything has unfolded,” Bartow said. “And Henry has done a great job while he’s been the CEO of that operation.” 

Board Chairman Dennis Bassett and OTB spokesperson Ryan Hasenauer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thursday’s action is just the latest shakeup in leadership for the public benefit corporation. 

In May 2023, then-state Sen. Tim Kennedy won language in the state budget that fired OTB’s board of directors and introduced weighted voting. The move effectively threw control of the organization, long run by Republican appointees, to Democrats. Representatives from Buffalo, Rochester and Erie and Monroe counties, the most populous counties in OTB’s jurisdiction and both controlled by Democrats, now hold a majority of board votes.

Wojtaszek, 61,  first joined OTB in 2010 as the agency’s general counsel, a position he retained when he was elevated to president and CEO in 2016. Before joining OTB, Wojtaszek led the Niagara County Republican Party for almost 10 years and has remained a behind-the-scenes player.

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Bartow said he is not concerned with where the new CEO is from or what political party they belong to. 

“We just want someone who knows the gaming industry,” he said, “someone who understands the unique nature of Batavia Downs. It is its own kind of animal.”

Bartow added that the next CEO should be someone who can get along well with OTB’s staff of more than 400 part- and full-time employees, something he said Wojtaszek was especially good at. He also said the new leader should have big ideas for Batavia Downs.

“It’s inherently an event space and we could certainly capitalize on that,” he said.

OTB has been the subject of criticism and investigations for much of Wojtaszek’s tenure.

Controversies include:

  • The use of tickets to sporting events and concerts by OTB executives and board members.
  • Board members receiving gold-plated healthcare benefits, something the state attorney general has said is not allowed. OTB later changed its policy, disallowing new board members to receive agency healthcare.
  • An FBI investigation into the awarding of contracts to politically connected vendors.
  • Wojtaszek’s personal use of a car and cell phone paid for by OTB — perks he later gave up.

The agency has also faced a number of lawsuits and legal challenges over the years. One case, brought by former state Sen. George Maziarz, alleged fraudulent practices at the agency. Another case from OTB’s former chief operating officer alleged he was wrongfully terminated after raising concerns about agency practices.

Niagara Gazette reporter Mark Scheer contributed to this report.

Investigative Post

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