STEUBEN COUNTY, N.Y. (WETM) – Charges have been dismissed against Steuben County Legislator Steve Maio and four other men who were allegedly involved in a “criminal enterprise” due to what Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker called a “technicality” during the grand jury proceedings.
Larry J Comfort Sr. and Larry J Comfort Jr. of Elmira Heights; Jonathan Hamilton of Elmira, Michael Stratton of Corning, and Maio were all arrested on a sealed indictment superior court arrest warrant in Dec. 2020 after an investigation into alleged sex and drug trafficking as part of the alleged enterprise.
According to Baker and attorney Matthew Buzzetti, who is representing Maio, the technicality was over the presence of police witnesses during the grand jury hearings, which are supposed to be conducted in secret.
Buzzetti says that a state police investigator was “operating some machinery as well as listening and observing some of the testimony” during the grand jury proceedings. Baker says the officer had pressed play on audio recordings that were being used as evidence during the hearing.
Baker says charges will be refiled in the next 45 days, but could not disclose when the grand jury will reconvene. Buzzetti says the charges were dismissed “with leave to re-present.”
Buzzetti says he has submitted a notice requesting that Maio testify during the grand jury proceedings if they are reconvened “in order to clear his own name.”
“I think he should hopefully afford anybody the right to testify before (the grand jury) whether they’re legally entitled to or not.”
In December, Baker announced that the indictment was part of an investigation that lasted over a year “to try to save local victims of sex trafficking.”
Charges in the indictment include sex trafficking, promoting prostitution, criminal sale of a controlled substance, criminal solicitation and conspiracy to commit murder, falsifying business records, forgery, enterprise corruption, sale of untaxed cigarettes, endangering the welfare of a child, and other crimes.
Larry Comfort Sr. is charged under each count of the indictment, while his co-defendants are each charged as alleged accomplices to various offenses.In 1980, Comfort Sr. was the getaway driver in the fatal shooting of New York State Trooper Robert Van Hall. Both Larry and his brother Joseph Comfort were convicted of murder, but Larry’s conviction was later overturned. He was later convicted on drug charges and was released in 2016.
Comfort Sr., Comfort Jr., Hamilton, and Maio are all charged with Enterprise Corruption, “alleging that they intentionally committed felony offenses and participated together in a pattern of activity constituting a criminal enterprise.”
Maio, a Democrat representing the City of Corning, was also arrested on Aug. 12 and was issued an appearance ticket by New York State Police. He pled not guilty in Hornellsville Town Court in November to patronizing a prostitute, according to his former attorney Chris Tunney.
Baker says Maio was not charged with sex trafficking as part of this indictment but was charged “as part of the enterprise corruption program. He is a participant in the enterprise corruption and engaged in a course of criminal conduct to advance the aims of the enterprise.”
Maio was also charged with falsifying business records in the first degree and forgery in the second degree as part of what Baker called a “cover up.”
Maio was arrested, appeared in court, and was released on his own recognizance.
Following Maio’s arrest, Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler did not have any comment when asked about Maio’s status on the county legislature.
Steuben County Republican Chairman Joe Sempolinski released a statement last year calling for Maio’s resignation:
“I was shocked to learn today that Steuben County Legislator Steve Maio had been charged in connection to an investigation into a sex trafficking ring. Mr. Maio has been charged with felonies related to his alleged participation in horrific criminal activity alongside some of the most notorious criminals in Steuben County history. He is an utter disgrace to his office, profession and Steuben County. He needs to resign his office immediately. Not tomorrow. Not later today. Immediately.”JOSEPH SEMPOLINSKI – CHAIRMAN, STEUBEN COUNTY REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE (Dec. 2020)
According to Baker, “The New York State Special Investigation Unit received the first tip about this group, then initiated and quarterbacked the investigation with assistance from the New York State Police Violent Gangs and Narcotics Enforcement Team, the Elmira City Police Drug Enforcement Unit and Troopers from the Painted Post Barracks. They followed leads, did hundreds of hours of surveillance, interviewed witnesses, and put the evidence together for the Grand Jury that ultimately led to this Indictment.”
Comfort Sr. and Stratton were stopped by Troopers in a vehicle and were arraigned in Steuben County Court, both entering not guilty pleas. Stratton was released on his own recognizance.
Hamilton was arrested after a foot chase with New York State Police and was remanded without bail to the Steuben County Jail.
Baker says Comfort Sr. remains in jail and all orders of protection remain in place despite the charges being dismissed.
Details of the alleged criminal enterprise released by Baker last year can be read below: