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Broome County DA campaign payment to former employee occurred after court intervention

Incumbent Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak is facing a Republican primary by Paul Battisti.
Vaughn Golden
Incumbent Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak is facing a Republican primary by Paul Battisti.

A payment to James Worhach from the campaign of Broome County District Attorney Michael Korchak resulted from a judgment in an unpaid wages claim initiated in small claims court by Worhach last year.

Korchak made light of the small claims action in a press conference following Worhach’s sentencing last week for charges related to a corruption scandal involving former District Attorney Steve Cornwell.

According to campaign finance disclosures, Korchak’s campaign paid Worhach just over $800 in December 2022 while Worhach still had felony charges pending.

Worhach, a former employee of the district attorney's office, filed the complaint in Binghamton Small Claims Court in May 2022 while he was still under indictment, according to court documents reviewed by WSKG. Korchak hadn’t paid Worhach for work done on his 2019 Republican primary against Paul Battisti. Worhach claimed $5,000 in damages, the maximum penalty allowed in city small claims courts. Ithaca City Court Judge Seth Peacock was brought in to handle the case, and ultimately ruled Worhach was entitled to $800 in addition to a $20 filing fee.

"Like any other case, we litigated it in court and then I cut him a check for $800 because to appeal it would cost even more than that,” Korchak said.

Worhach’s unpaid wages claim, Korchak said, came after Worhach sent repeated personnel complaints and Freedom of Information Law requests “to the point of harassment” to the district attorney’s office. Worhach resigned after he was charged with DWI in 2020.

An investigator in the district attorney’s office, Jeff Wagner, said employees found documents related to a prior DWI charge of Worhach’s under his desk. That discovery helped lead the investigator to discover a scandal involving private parking, as well as theft and alteration of records by Worhach and former District Attorney Steve Cornwell.

At the time of Korchak’s payment, Worhach had pleaded guiltyto a misdemeanor charge for stealing records related to his prior DWI charges, but still had charges pending on felony counts of grand larceny. Worhach later also pleaded guilty to the grand larceny charges and was sentenced to two to four years in state prison last week. The prison time will be reduced to parole if Worhach successfully completes a 90-day drug treatment program under the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Following remarks from Korchak last week, Wagner discussed his involvement in investigating the case. Wagner pointedly criticized a character recommendation written for Steve Cornwell by Broome County Legislature Chairman Dan Reynolds prior to his guilty pleas last year, a Republican. Wagner called Reynolds’ letter "one of the most troubling aspects of this case” and alleged the legislator had a “bone to pick” with the district attorney’s office.

Reynolds declined an interview with WSKG, but said he’s never shown animosity towards Korchak or the district attorney’s office. He also drew attention to the fact that his letter never asks for the charges against Cornwell to be dismissed, but only attests to his time working with the former district attorney.

Campaign finance records show Reynold’s campaign contributed $1,350 to Korchak’s 2019 primary campaign.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.