A sitting Steuben County legislator, along with an Elmira Heights man involved in the fatal 1980 shooting of a New York State Police investigator are among five men indicted for their alleged roles in a sex trafficking ring.
New York State Police initially received a tip about the sex trafficking ring and spent hundreds of hours performing surveillance and conducting witness interviews to put together evidence for a grand jury, according to Steuben County District Attorney Brooks Baker.
The investigation remains ongoing.
Here is what we know so far about those accused and the case:
Sex trafficking indictment: Who is accused
The 34-count indictment includes charges against Larry J. Comfort Sr. and Larry J. Comfort Jr., both of Elmira Heights, Jonathan F. Hamilton of Elmira, Michael L. Stratton from the Town of Corning, and Steven P. Maio of Corning. It accuses them of multiple felonies involving allegations of sex trafficking and other crimes in Steuben and Chemung counties.
Among the charges are felony counts of sex trafficking, third-degree promoting prostitution, third-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance, criminal solicitation and conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree falsifying business records, second-degree forgery and enterprise corruption.
Larry Comfort Sr. is charged under each count of the indictment, while the others are charged as accomplices to various crimes.
Maio has been released on his own recognizance pending further court action, while the other three defendants have been sent to the Steuben County jail without bail.
Steuben County legislator indicted
The sex trafficking indictment includes criminal charges against Steuben County Legislator Steven P. Maio of Corning, a Democrat who represents the 2nd legislative district.
Maio, 55, is also a former City of Corning councilman who was appointed in May 2015 to fill a vacancy on the legislature and was then elected as a Democrat that fall, narrowly defeating Republican candidate Joe Sempolinski.
New York State Police arrested Maio in August on a misdemeanor count of third-degree patronizing a prostitute, but did not release any further details of the allegations.
Two suspects were linked to investigator’s 1980 shooting
Larry Comfort Sr. and his brother Joseph were charged in connection with the December 1980 fatal shooting of state police investigator Robert Van Hall and wounding of his partner during an ambush at a car wash in the City of Corning.
Court records said Larry Comfort was with his brother at the car wash when Joseph opened fire on the investigators with a shotgun.
Both men were originally convicted of murder charges, but Larry Comfort’s conviction was later overturned. His conviction on drug charges was upheld and he was paroled in 2013.
Joseph Comfort was 71 when hedied in prison in January 2019.
What Steuben County Democrats, Republicans say
The Steuben County Democratic Party released a statement after the indictment naming Maio was unsealed.
“We were deeply troubled and even more deeply saddened to hear that Steuben County Legislator Steven Maio has been charged in connection to an investigation into a sex trafficking ring. Although in America our system of justice says you are innocent until proven guilty, these charges are extremely serious and disheartening,” the statement said.
“We as leaders of the Steuben County Democratic Party call upon Steven Maio to examine his heart and determine if, by his action or inaction, is doing the right thing for his family, his county and the people he serves by continuing to serve as a County Legislator. We sincerely hope Steven Maio makes the right decision, which at this time only he can make, for the good of all parties involved. As Leaders of the Democratic Party in Steuben County we are deeply saddened to have to comment on this matter; particularly at this difficult time while dealing with a pandemic and hoping that we all stay safe this Christmas Season.”
Steuben County Republican Chairman Joe Sempolinski also issued a statement, which asked for Legislator Steve Maio’s resignation in the wake of the indictment.
“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,” Sempolinski said.
“He is an utter disgrace to his office, profession and Steuben County,” the statement continued. “He needs to resign his office immediately. Not tomorrow. Not later today. Immediately.”
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