Cheektowaga Town Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski is attempting to keep a a jaw-dropping report from the public, alleges Frank Max — a bitter political rival who sees her a threat to his grip on Town patronage.
Over the last several months a corruption investigation into the Town’s Highway Department and a contractor, The Viking Company, has been underway.
When the Board convenes at 6:00pm this evening, it is expected that they will go into Executive Session to discuss the report. Observers in both factions of the Democratic Party, which controls Cheektowaga, expect the report to be forwarded to the New York Attorney General’s Office — but they do not expect it to be made public.
Protesters are expected to attend the meeting and to demand that the scathing report be made publicly available. The report details the investigation’s findings and sheds light into, what a senior Democratic Party operative calls, “a culture of municipal corruption.” Among the findings:
- Highway Superintendent Mark Wagner directed asphalt millings belonging to the Town to be used at a private job site. Rather than using the ground road millings for work on Town repaving sites, the millings were diverted to the Lancaster Country Club, where they were used to repave the parking lot. In return, Wegner was named “Member of the Month.”
- Mark Wegner and his assistant misallocated $40,000 in payroll payments to employees who were not performing work for the Town. Mike Lumadue, for instance, was paid for seventeen and half weeks without working. Over 740 comp hours were involved in the case of that employee alone.
- Mike Lumadue, a Highway Department employee, used Town equipment at no cost to remove a swimming pool from his backyard, which he said was authorized by Mark Wegner.
- Mark Wagner directed employees to go on a fishing trip in Northern Ontario. The Foreman of that group was Tony Lewandowski, who, with three additional employees of the Town, went on the all expenses paid trip. It was paid for by The Viking Company, which performs “outrigging work” for the Town. They supply heavy equipment for highway maintenance work.
- Darryl Stachurra, a driver for the Highway Department, took home Town equipment — a large wood chipper — for personal use at his home on Cuomo Park Boulevard. He removed all of the trees on his property with the Town equipment at no cost, which he claims was authorized by Mark Wegner.
- Other employees were allowed to go golfing on Town time.
Wegner is very close to Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner and County Executive Mark Poloncarz. They are so close that — when former Councilman Charlie Markel was ousted from the Board for illegally collecting 71 weeks of unemployment benefits — Wegner lobbied Poloncarz to give the disgraced Councilman a job. He was first hired in the Poloncarz Administration last year, and was hired two months ago at the Erie County Water Authority.
Benczkowski has been working with Phillips Lytle attorney Ken Manning to conceal the report from the public. She has been working with Phillips Lytle since her time on the School Board, when she was brought up on charges that she had been leaking personnel information. The Board attempted to remove her, so she hired the high priced firm and fought the removal. Manning is known locally as “a fixer.”
Zellner and Poloncarz have been plotting to push longtime Town Supervisor Mary Holtz out of office. They are widely expected to back Benczkowski.