Steve Richards at the Town of Niagara Park.
It is no secret that Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards is under investigation. It has been reported in newspapers and on TV that the FBI is investigating. Rumors have been circulating all over, in whispers and in gossiping harangues in coffee shops and bars and wherever the idle conjecture on things they know little about.
Naturally we got calls. People call us all the time to tell us what they know or think they know about Richards. We dispelled some rumors right off the bat. Like the one that Steve had been bribed by taking a free home in Florida from Modern Disposal or Benderson Development.
A check of recorded deeds shows he purchased an 1800 square foot house near Fort Lauderdale. He paid $200,000 and it has a recorded mortgage of $150,000. People don’t get a house on a bribe with a mortgage on it.
He also has a home in the town of Niagara. Records show it is 998 square feet and worth about $60,000.
By the way, Richards is not under investigation by the FBI. The investigation is by the New York State Attorney General.
I went to Richards Automotive, his auto repair shop, on Sweet Home Road, in the town of Niagara. His father, Calvin had started the shop in 1957. Steve runs it now, although his father, 85, still comes in and works now and then.
I pulled into the gravel parking lot. This was another of the alleged Richards’ thefts: Supposedly he had taken town gravel for his parking lot.
I know something of parking lots. I used to own one. Richards’ 100ft by 50ft lot could be graveled for $1,000.
The Reporter learned that National Grid worked in the right-of-way and dug up gravel on the road next to his lot. It is said his political adversaries presented investigators a photograph of gravel not belonging to Richards on or near his lot. Sources tell us Richards produced receipts for the gravel.
I went inside his place. It was rumored he had stolen town paint to paint his shop. The ceiling was recently painted. A source told me he could put me in contact with the painter who did the work and a receipt for the paint is available. It was not stolen from town, but purchased at Home Depot, he said.
As of press time, I could not confirm or deny the truth of this. It should be easy enough to prove by next week’s edition.
When I met him, Richards was engaging. He spoke of this country and how it has changed. “What made this country great was the free sprit of the people,” he said. “When I was young and somebody had a Cadillac, I didn’t think, ‘I am entitled to that because he has one.’ No. It inspired me to work so I could earn one myself.”
Richards is a curious mix of nationalities. On his father’s side, his family goes back to the Pilgrims. They came over on the Lyons in 1629. His paternal grandmother was African American. How shocking that must have been 60 years ago, and, to be frank, Richards has been called a “nigger” in his life.
His mother was Italian. Her maiden name was Teresa Campasano. She is 90. Richards recalled that his mother never taught him Italian and one day he asked her, ‘how come you never taught me as a child?’”
“You’re an American,” she said.
“Nowadays they put everybody separate, and we all fight against each other,” Richards said.
He showed me an ad on his bulletin board. It was an old Reporter ad for Richard’s automotive. It read, “Don’t be afraid to say ‘Merry Christmas,’” a not too oblique snub to the age of atheistic government where it may not be legal to even say, “Merry Christmas,” on government property.
Here was another allegation: Richards was alleged to have purchased two of these “Merry Christmas” ads, published in the Niagara Falls Reporter, for his business - using town money. But Richard’s Automotive, not the town, paid for those ads.
We also learned there was a storm catch basin that he allegedly stole from the town and was buried in front of his property.
The Reporter put in a FOILrequest with the town of Niagara. Our sources told us the town has a record that Richards Automotive paid $329 for the basin which, by law, he was obligated to pay to install the catch basin.
From what we learned, here was the meat of the investigation: stone, paint, some Drano and a catch basin.
All of it together equals about $2,000. If he stole it.
Sources tell us that Richards presented investigators with receipts for gravel, as well as paint.
There was one thing more:
The rumor we heard was that the Feds stormed his house one day, kicked in the door and seized stolen guns that Richards allegedly stole from the town police department. It’s untrue.
We confirmed that the Niagara Police switched from the old 45’s to Glocks recently. I spoke to Police Chief H. James Suitor. He said, “There are no guns missing. All of my weapons are accounted for.”
As the full time supervisor of the town of Niagara, Richards makes $35,960 per year. The town has a population of 8,500. And is 9.78 square miles. His wife works as a janitor at the school. To work so hard all of one’s life and be falsely accused, if he has been falsely accused, is a bitter pill to swallow. His wife is sweeping at the school. He is up at 6 am to work at the shop before going to work at his supervisor’s job. And now to be accused of stealing trifles.
Was there anything more? We intend to find out.
Richards, a conservative Republican, has had some accomplishments during his four terms as supervisor.
He brought Wegmans to town, the only one in Niagara County. He got the town free garbage disposal, cutting a deal with Allied Waste to take all the townspeople’s garbage away for free in return for their being permitted to continue to operate a landfill. He cut a deal with the Fashion Outlet Mall to pay full assessment of town taxes and an extra $200,000 per year.
Richards did not allow any IDA in his town to exempt town taxes. That’s why there is a town of Niagara IDA, he said, to make sure the county does not gift away town taxes as they do in other communities.
The Fashion Outlet Mall owners pay more in town taxes per square foot than the Eastern Hills Mall, the Boulevard Mall and the Galleria Mall.
The Fashion Outlet Mall owners pay $910,900 in taxes. $131,500 goes to the town, but Richards crafted a deal for the additional $200,000 which more than doubles what the town would normally get.
Richards also negotiated the settlement with NYPA for his town and got his town more money than the city of Niagara Falls. That is pretty good since, after all, Niagara Falls has the waterfalls and the water intake. Yet Niagara Falls gets $850,000. But Richards got for the tiny town of Niagara, $1,040,000 per year for 50 years.
With some of that money, Richards built a town park, and preserved the last remaining old growth forest, a tax-free town park, like his tax-free garbage collection and his mall that pays more than any other mall in taxes.
No wonder the Democrats in this town keep re-electing him, a man who says, “the more money you give to government, the more they are going to waste.”
Is he a man who would steal five gallons of Drano?
Rod Personius is high profile and one of the premier defense lawyers in Buffalo. He represents Richards and confirmed to the Reporter that it is a NYS Attorney General investigation and not the FBI.
“We are awaiting a decision from them on whether they are going to move forward on the case or not,” he said.
Now, naturally, the NYS Attorney General has to do its job. There is little doubt that one or more of Richard’s political opponents made accusations against him. They investigate as is their job, no matter how spurious the allegations may turn out to be.
We do not know all the details.
But I asked Richards about the case. He declined all comments on specifics and referred me to Personius.
But finally, after repeated inquiries, he made his first definitive comment on this case. He said, “I am innocent of all these allegations. And I will go to the death defending the Richards’ name. I have proof of everything. And I can tell you this, I will never say I did something I did not do. I’ll never retire under a cloud. I will defend my name - to the death.”
(The Reporter will be, in the coming weeks, looking into this investigation and promise readers continuing, in depth reports.)