BATAVIA — A former Western Regional Off-Track Betting chief operating officer was terminated several weeks after his attorney served a notice of claim alleging retaliation by WROTB. The alleged retaliation came after the chief operating officer, Michael Nolan, cooperated with investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies into alleged wrongdoing by WROTB.
Former Chief Operating Officer Michael Nolan was terminated Dec. 18.
The notice of claim was dated Sept. 21 and was sent to Western Regional Off-Track Betting Board of Directors Secretary Scott Kiedrowski and WROTB Vice President of Administration William White.
Nolan’s claim against WROTB is for economic damages and damages for emotional distress and for relief for “wrongful tortious conduct,” according to the notice. The claim also cites medical expenses, loss of income and other damages, including attorney’s fees.
“It is my understanding that the Board of Directors chose to terminate Michael on Dec. 18,” his attorney, Steven Cohen, said Thursday in an email to The Daily News. “It is also my understanding that Mr. Nolan‘s health insurance was canceled sometime on or before Dec. 3, without notice, which would not have been allowed to be terminated while he was still employed.”
The notice alleges WROTB retaliated against Nolan “for exercising (his) constitutional rights in disclosing the wrongful conduct of WROTB board members and executives to investigating law enforcement agencies, by engaging in tortious conduct by Defendants against Plaintiff (Nolan).”
WROTB attorney Daniel Oliverio Thursday disputed the claims in the notice.
“First, we — OTB its directors and officers and its employees — are so sick and tired of hearing Mr. Nolan and his lawyer make reckless, unsubstantiated and baseless allegations against individuals at OTB. We can’t find one witness to substantiate the allegations of Mr. Nolan and we have done a complete investigation,” he said.
Oliverio said the investigation has included examining emails and talking to witnesses.
The notice also alleges the following violations by WROTB:
• violation of Civil Service Law by retaliating against Nolan for disclosing improper governmental actions by WROTB board members and executives to investigating law enforcement agencies;
• violation of Labor Law consisting of retaliation against Nolan for disclosing health care fraud of WROTB board members and executives to investigating law enforcement agencies;
• inflicting emotional distress through “deliberate, relentless and malicious campaign of harassment and hostility” toward Nolan by WROTB through Chairman of the Board of Directors Richard D. Bianchi and WROTB
President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek;
• termination of Nolan by isolating and ostracizing him and excluding him from WROTB meetings, chain of command and management decisions;
• defamation of the former chief operating officer through false and defamatory statements about him by WROTB through Wojtaszek;
• improper withholding of wages payable to Nolan by WROTB;
• failure to reimburse and indemnify Nolan for attorneys fees he incurred by performing his public duties as an employee of WROTB and contrary to the Public Officers Law.
The alleged wrongful conduct leading to these claims began in April 2019 and is ongoing, according to the notice.
“There are currently multiple investigations being conducted into the conduct of WROTB board members and executives and the operations of WROTB, including investigations that are being conducted by the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the United States Attorney’s Office of the Western District of New York, the state Comptroller’s Office and the New York State Gaming Commission,” the notice of claim says.
Those agencies are currently investigating WROTB for alleged:
• awarding of lucrative contracts to “politically connected entities” associated with WROTB;
• providing free health insurance to WROTB board members and executives; and
• distribution of ticket purchases by WROTB to Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills games to friends, family members and political associates of WROTB executives and board members.
Nolan cooperated with the FBI and spoke to and met with an FBI agent concerning the FBI investigation of WROTB, according to the notice.
“In direct response to the claimant (Nolan) cooperating with the FBI, WROTB — acting through Bianchi and Wojtaszek — retaliated against the claimant and engaged in an ongoing and continuous series of acts involving harassment and intimidation consisting of:
a) excluding the claimant from management and isolating the claimant;
b) threatening the claimant with termination;
c) adverse employment actions directed to the claimant.
Nolan’s firing is “pure, quintessential vindictiveness” on the part of Bianchi and Wojtaszek,” Cohen said in an email to The Daily News earlier in the week.
“For over a year, after eight years of sterling performance evaluations, back in early 2019, Michael was stripped of his duties as FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) officer and other key roles, he was ostracized by the president and chairman and isolated and not permitted access to the data he needed to do his job, all because he spoke to the FBI at the request of other board members.”
Oliverio Thursday said WROTB can’t wait to get Nolan into court. He said WROTB hasn’t been sued yet.
“We’re entitled to examine the plaintiff under oath before they sue,” Oliverio said. “We can’t wait, because if anything, Mr. Nolan’s story has shifted back and forth over the last 10 months,” he said.
Oliverio said there will be a lot to say once in the courtroom.
“I would encourage, before anyone draws any conclusions ... you would be wise to wait for the proof. It’s easy to make allegations before the media. It’s a little harder to prove in the courtroom and that’s we want to be,” he said.