County GOP Majority Mom on OTB Hotel Offer [Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y.] – InsuranceNewsNet

July 30—Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick put pressure on officials to Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. for more details on the public body’s purchase of a hotel in Batavia.

Hardwick also questioned why the OTB continues to provide health insurance benefits to part-time board members, a practice the New York State controller and the New York State The Attorney General has previously deemed it inappropriate.

Members of the Republican-led Niagara County Legislature seem uninterested in following Hardwick’s lead on questions about the operation of the OTB.

Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Becky WydychR-Lewistondid not answer questions about whether Niagara County should weigh on OTB’s hotel purchase or the agency’s health insurance practices.

Instead, she released a statement through the county’s public information officer. Kevin Schuler on behalf of “all members of the majority” in which she declared Niagara County acts through its representative on the OTB Board of Directors, Eliot Winter.

Regarding the hotel case, she indicated that the state comptroller’s office and New York State Gaming Commission have “approved the purchase and financing of the hotel” and that, “so far, the purchase appears to have been very successful for WROTB and, by extension, the member counties”.

“I expect that if there is any reason to question this purchase, these agencies would be the appropriate authority to review it,” Wydysh said in reference to the hotel near Batavia Downs that OTB bought in July 2021 for $7.5 million.

As first reported by the Buffalonews agency based Survey post and his TV news partner, WGRZ, Hardwick earlier this month sent a pair of letters to the president and CEO of OTB, former Niagara County chairman of the republican committee Henri Wojtaszekrequesting more detailed information on the hotel transaction and health insurance coverage for OTB board members.

In a letter dated July 15thHardwick explained that OTB’s board had authorized the sale of 35,000 square feet of property at Batavia Downs to a group of investors for $605,000 in 2015. The investment company, ADK Hospitality, LLCbought the land with a view to building a hotel there. Survey post reported that state records show the ADK formed a month before the land sale was approved.

Hardwick’s letter identifies investors in ADK as: Anthony J. Baynes (former president of Erie County Financial Stability Authority), Kent Frey (Frey electrical construction), David McNamara (hodgson russ law firm and former adviser to the tax stability authority), Laszlo Mechtler (Dental Neurological Institute) and Jack and John Basil (Basil car dealership family).

According to Hardwick’s letter, an 84-room, 50,000-square-foot hotel opened on the land in late October 2016. Hardwick, citing “various reports”, indicates that ADK spent between $5 million and $5.5 million construction of the building. The project received $600,000 public aid under an agreement in lieu of taxes authorized by the Genesee County Economic Development Corporation

Following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020OTB’s board of directors approved the purchase of the hotel from ADK in a deal finalized last July.

The purchase price was $7.5 millionwhich Hardwick described as a “considerable margin”.

In his letter, Hardwick asked Wojtaszek why OTB would engage with an investment group that had never developed a hotel before. He also asked for detailed information on how OTB determined the sale price of the land, who initiated the deal and how much money OTB spent on the hotel rooms before and after he got it. became the owner.

In a separate letter, dated July 18Hardwick asked for “information and clarification” about the OTB’s continued practice of providing health, dental and vision benefits to agency board members.

The state attorney general and state comptroller’s office have issued opinions that OTB board members are not legally entitled to health insurance benefits. In addition, a private lawyer hired by OTB accepted these assessments.

In his letter, Hardwick asks Wojtaszek whether OTB intends to end health insurance benefits for current directors and whether directors will be eligible for benefits once they part ways with the company’s board. agency or will retire.

The Niagara County Legislative Assembly minority caucus leader, Chris RobinD-Niagara Fallsdescribed OTB’s ongoing practice of providing extended public health insurance coverage to board members who show up for one or two meetings a month with one word: “Shameful.”

“No one on this board should receive this benefit,” Robins said. “For them to continue to receive it would be a borderline crime at this point.”

Robins also said that although the leaders of Niagara County doesn’t seem interested in looking into OTB, he’s glad that at least Erie County is questioning.

“Counties are supposed to provide oversight for WROTB,” Robins said. “I’m glad to see Erie County do so, and I hope the state, along with other counties, will follow suit. »

In his statement, Wydysh said OTB’s private counsel, noted Buffalo Defence lawyer Terry Connorsis “still in discussion with the state attorney general’s office on the issue of health insurance packages.”

Robins said he believes WROTB’s activities should be business-only and non-political.

“It can be a source of income for Niagara Countybut I think it needs to be run like a business and not like a political party,” Robins said. “For now, I think separating them would be good news for the counties.”

Established in 1973, OTB is a public benefit corporation that oversees the Batavia Downs harness racing track and casino, as well as local OTB branches and EZ Bet sites across Western New York. Revenues generated by OTB are shared by the cities of Buffalo and Rochester and 15 counties, including Niagara County.

The agency has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli’s office released a pair of audits last fall that encouraged the agency to “clean up its operation.”

State auditors reported to OTB officials that they had misused themselves to obtain tickets for Buffalo Tickets and bison sabers and other events paid for by the agency. In addition, the auditors determined that the President and Chief Executive Officer of OTB, former Niagara County President of the Republican Party Henri Wojtaszekfailed to properly explain the personal use of his agency-issued vehicle.

Wojtaszek and other OTB representatives have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

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