Jul 3


State lawmaker calls OTB buyouts illegal

Assemblywoman to ask state comptroller and attorney general to investigate $500,000 in golden parachutes to Wojtaszek and two other executives

OTB Chairman Dennis Bassett, left, and Henry Wojtaszek, president and CEO. Photo by Garrett Looker.

State Assemblywoman Monica Wallace is calling the six-figure buyout for the Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. president and CEO, Henry Wojtaszek, “blatantly illegal” and said she will ask state Attorney General Letitia James to investigate the “golden parachutes” going to three top OTB leaders.

“There is no question that I will be asking the AG’s office, the comptroller’s office, and perhaps even the inspector general, to look into this,” Wallace, a Lancaster Democrat, told Investigative Post.

The OTB board of directors voted last week to “renegotiate” the contracts of Wojtaszek and two other top officials, who will leave the agency between December and next spring. Wojtaszek will earn a full-year’s pay — $299,000 — when he departs OTB at the end of year. 

Longtime chief financial officer Jacquelyne Leach will depart early next year with a $122,000 buyout. Vice-president of administration William White will leave in April next year and receive a buyout of $87,000.

The payouts are equal to a year’s salary for Wojtaszek and a half-year’s salary for Leach and White.

Citing the “Severance Pay Limitation Act” she sponsored in 2019, Wallace said the law limits pay for any public employee leaving their job to three months.

“This is the latest . . .  fiscal irresponsibility by this public benefit corporation that seems to be operating in the interest of the board members and the employees and not in the interest of the taxpayers who are entitled to the revenues from unspent funds,” she said.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Wojtaszek or OTB spokesperson Ryan Hasenauer.

Other officials, including Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, agreed with Wallace’s call for an investigation.

“If this is in any way a violation of the [Severance Pay Limitation Act] then it should absolutely be investigated,” said Poloncarz spokesperson Peter Anderson.

“I’m hopeful that Assemblywoman Wallace is correct,” Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick added.

U.S. Rep. Tim Kennedy, who sponsored OTB reform legislation as a state senator, said there should be “accountability” for the buyouts.

“I imagine it’s something that the state Legislature is going to look into,” he said.

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox
* indicates required

Newsletters *

OTB is owned by Buffalo, Rochester and 15 counties stretching from the Finger Lakes to Lake Erie, including Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties. 

The agency operates slots, a hotel and harness racing track at Batavia Downs, eight betting parlors and EZ Bet terminals in 24 bars and restaurants. The agency projects it will earn more than $80 million this year and distribute nearly $10 million to the member municipalities.

Wojtaszek, 61, will leave behind a checkered legacy at the public benefit corporation he’s run since 2016. He joined the agency in 2010 as general counsel. He previously served as head of the Niagara County Republican Party for a decade. 

Under his leadership, OTB had a hotel built at Batavia Downs that the agency is now talking about expanding. Revenue from horse racing has declined while the handle from the gaming floor at Batavia Downs has continued to earn the agency substantial sums. The agency has also closed eight of its branch locations during Wojtaszek’s tenure. 

OTB has been the subject of lawsuits an investigation by the FBI and repeated criticism from the state and Erie County comptroller’s offices. Among the controversies: providing health-insurance to board members against the advice of the attorney general, and the use of OTB tickets to concerts and sporting events by the agency’s executives and board members.

While the state comptroller has found fault with OTB, no criminal or civil charges have ever been filed against the agency, Wojtaszek or other leadership. Wojtaszek, chief operating officer Scott Kiedrowski and OTB are currently the subject of a federal lawsuit alleging Kiedrowski and another OTB official sexually harassed female staff members.

Hardwick noted that the buyouts to Wojtaszek, Leach and White were pursuant to first-ever contracts they received last year,  just prior to state legislation that restructured the board of directors.

“That smacked of corruption last year, when they did that,” Hardwick said. “Now, a year later, here we are offering them these fantastic payouts.”

The OTB board voted 14-1 last week to approve the payouts.

Anderson, Poloncarz’s spokesperson, noted that the lone vote against the buyout plan came from Erie County’s board appointee, Tim Callan. Anderson said Poloncarz spoke with Callan prior to last week’s OTB board meeting and encouraged Erie County’s appointee to “vote his conscience.”  

Callan deferred comment to Dennis Bassett, chairman of the OTB board. 

In a statement, Bassett said Wojtaszek’s departure was part of a mutual agreement. Bassett, the Rochester representative, became chair last year after state legislation reorganized the board, effectively ending Republican control of the agency, throwing control to Democrats.

“We have mutually renegotiated these contracts in the best interest of each individual and of our corporation. It is a very amicable separation,” Bassett’s statement read. “This has been done in order to put in place a succession plan that will allow for continuity over the next several years.”

Bassett declined to comment further.

Donate to support our nonprofit newsroom

Several Niagara County Democrats joined the chorus of criticism against Wojtaszek and OTB.

Niagara County Legislator Christopher Robins, a Democrat who serves as the legislature’s minority leader, described the buyouts as “absolutely ridiculous.” 

“I can’t see how those are appropriate for the job that’s been done,” he said.

Niagara County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Borgatti said people should question the timing of the board’s decision last year to authorize lucrative contract extensions for Wojtaszek and 17 other executives six days before directors were ousted from their positions under WROTB reform language included as part of the state budget adopted in May 2023.

It’s clear the move was made to benefit a “political insider” at the expense of the general public, he said. 

“You are talking hundreds of thousands of dollars that is rightfully owned by the 17 communities, including Niagara County,” Borgatti said. “It’s hypocritical for Republicans to say they want to limit government when this guy is running out the door with hundreds of thousands of dollars that should be our money to help these communities grow. This is the end of a saga of this leadership there that’s been marked by turmoil. It just stinks to high hell of nepotism and political trading.” 

Borgatti said the question now is: Were these contracts made in good faith? 

The state comptroller’s office and the state attorney general should be investigating, if they aren’t already, he said. 

Niagara County Republicans, meanwhile, had less to say.

When asked if he thought the compensation packages being offered to the OTB executives are appropriate, Niagara County Legislator Richard Andres, R-North Tonawanda, who is the current chairman of the county’s Republican Party, said “he had no idea what a casino executive makes.” 

He described the issue as a “contractual thing” that OTB’s board is “dealing with.” 

OTB officials have said they plan on conducting a nationwide job search to fill Wojtaszek’s position.

Republican Legislator Chris Voccio, R-Niagara Falls, said the agency’s “record profits” under Wojtaszek have been great for member municipalities and that he hopes new leadership can continue to post the same “strong results.” 

“Leadership matters, so we shouldn’t assume the cash cow will continue unabated regardless of who is at the helm,” he said.

Investigative Post

Get our newsletters delivered to your inbox * indicates required

Newsletters *