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Campaign contribution connections in Cheektowaga highway issue

The private property owner involved in the situation has also been a campaign contributor to the Friends of Mark Wegner since 2007.

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. — After learning Wednesday that the Erie County District Attorney's office is investigating the Cheektowaga Town Highway Department, we decided to look a bit deeper.

What we found were some political contributions from the private property owner who was involved in the situation with town workers handling a flagpole repair project on his property.

A spokesperson for Erie County District Attorney John Flynn confirms that office did launch an investigation and added they cannot comment further. 

As we've shown you in pictures provided to us by the Town of Cheektowaga Employees Association, there are town workers and a highway department vehicle with a boom bucket parked on a town street doing repair work and attaching a light on a flagpole. That took place at a private medical professional office on Borden Road.

Town Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner told us Wednesday he disagreed with union attorney Paul Weiss' contention that it's a violation of the state constitution. Wegner explained it was just an effort to assist a town resident who had called him to request help with that flagpole. 

"You're dealing with a veteran, you're dealing with doctor and a volunteer firemen who has donated a lot of money and a lot of time to the town," Wegner told 2 On Your Side.

Wegner is referring to Dr. Ali Jafari at 711 Borden Road, who is listed as a volunteer firefighter and captain in the New York State Guard in his biography.

It turns out Dr. Jafari is also a campaign contributor to the Friends of Mark Wegner since the highway superintendent was elected in 2007. We found contribution amounts of $200 in 2009, 2011, and 2018, and then $400 in 2012 and 2013.

And now Wegner's town highway department is under investigation.  

Defense Attorney Barry Covert said taxpayers don't get upset when police or municipal workers assist someone for example stuck in the snow. However, he says in this situation there may be a cost savings for a private owner or business.

"Here it doesn't seem as though it's something that should necessarily go criminal," Covert said. "If in fact the town highway department was utilizing town equipment to help a private business change some lights once a year, that shouldn't rise to the level.

"But that's not to say that the District Attorney's office doesn't want to take a close look at this to see exactly what was involved. How many employee hours were involved? What equipment was used? How was this performed? And then decide whether they want to seek any charges."  

We also pressed Wegner on whether it was against the state constitution, which he swore to uphold as an elected official. The town employee's union attorney claimed it was.

We asked, "Wouldn't you be in violation of the state constitution?"

Wegner responded, "Spank me."

But could a judge spank someone with the law following the DA's investigation? Defense attorney Barry Covert again said he isn't sure if it would actually be regarded as a criminal case.

"If there is a criminal charge, it would undermine a defense of, 'Well, I thought I was permitted. I'm not on notice that this was not permitted, that we weren't allowed during work hours to utilize town equipment and town employees who are being paid at that tow, at that time, by the town. We weren't permitted to use them. I didn't know that.' Well, the (state) constitution clearly states that and ignorance is no defense," Covert said.

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