Vince Anello story
By Frank Parlato
Former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello, who served 10 months in prison on his guilty plea to illegally receiving pension benefits, is contemplating a political comeback.
Anello tells the Reporter he is “seriously” considering a run for a seat on the City Council, saying he still wants to be involved.
"My goal is to serve the community,” he told the Reporter. “I love the City of Niagara Falls. Sure, I would love to be in the mix.”
If he decides to run, it would be a dramatic comeback effort for one of the area’s best known public figures, a man who rose from humble origins to become mayor and then fell spectacularly following his guilty plea to submitting false claims for pension benefits through his union.
After serving his sentence, Anello returned home, but he didn’t hide or bury his head in the sand. He launched a radio show where he took up the city’s challenges and now he is considering going a step further by running for public office at a very difficult time for the city.
"With any election, it is all about what the community believes and what the community thinks and how they feel," Anello said, stopping short of saying he would run. "There is only one way to gauge it. What do the people think? I want to know how the community really feels about me being back in the public arena. I certainly feel confident that I have the city's best interests at heart."
For the record, Anello, 67, did not contact the Reporter for this story, seeking publicity. Nick Forster, Niagara County Democratic Party chairman, asked this writer in person what his reaction would be if Anello were to run for council. County legislator Jason Zona was present during that conversation and since then others have mentioned the possibility, some of them with enthusiasm. No one came out and said they were endorsing him, but no one said they wouldn't.
The Reporter contacted Anello to see if he really was considering a run for office.
After all, we all know the world loves somebody who can come back from adversity and that would certainly be the case if Anello tries to make a comeback.
Undoubtedly, he will be criticized in some quarters if he actually runs.
But that prospect would probably not deter Anello who was never shy or timid. Whether you like him or not, if he says he will run, he won’t cower or fear to face his past or the present.
"I feel very confident that I would do a good job for the City of Niagara Falls," said Anello. "My public record, my six years on the council and four years as mayor, it was hard work and a constant striving for more and more productivity. I have no problem meeting another challenge like that."
Vincenzo V. (Vince) Anello was born in Ciaculli, Sicily. When he was 10, he came to Niagara Falls and went to 39th St. School then to Gaskill then later to Trott Vocational. After some college, he went to Syracuse to work for General Electric and then back to Niagara Falls where he applied for membership in the electrical union and spent most of his adult life working as a licensed electrician.
In 1981, he ran unsuccessfully for council. Shortly afterward, he became chairman of the city Democratic Party and in the late 1980s chairman of the Niagara County Democratic Party.
He ran for county legislature and lost, ran for council in 1996 and won. Then, after a four-year term, he lost his re-election bid only to come back two years later and regain his seat.
A rising star of local politics, he was on the council for two years, ran for mayor and won, beating Paul Dyster in the primary and Mayor Irene Elia in the general election setting a record for the largest plurality in any mayoral race in recent memory.
He began his term as mayor on Jan. 1, 2004 and ended it on Jan. 1, 2008. During most of his term, he was under investigation by federal authorities on allegations of corruption.
"Never once during all that time did I once say, 'why me?' or didn’t go to work or felt I should call in sick," he said. "I went to work every day. I was there usually before anybody else showed up to work. I would make my coffee, take a deep breath, and jump right back in."
During his term, Anello was perhaps best known for having an open door policy. He would see anybody.
"My door was always open," Anello said. "Even during the worst times with the public corruption probe, not once was my door closed or locked or was I out of the office unnecessarily."
Following his term as mayor, he pleaded guilty to federal charges related to receiving more money from his labor union pension fund than he was legally entitled under a plea bargain.
The pension fund case was among other criminal indictments brought against Anello by the U. S. Attorney's office after a Niagara Falls Reporter story revealed Anello received $40,000 in checks from Tuscarora businessman and downtown developer Joe Anderson.
The Reporter obtained copies of the canceled checks, and turned them over to the FBI. Anello denied any wrongdoing concerning the checks.
The U.S. Justice Dept. charged Anello with wrongful receipt of a payment by a public official, conspiracy to affect commerce by extortion, and two counts of depriving citizens of honest services from a government official in November 2008.
As he awaited trial, the former mayor took work as a union electrician through the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, doing electrical work for companies owned by Anderson, while simultaneously collecting his union pension.
Federal pension regulations prohibit beneficiaries from performing more than 40 hours of electrical work a month if they are collecting plan-related income.
Federal prosecutors said that, contrary to documents Anello filed, the former mayor worked more than his claimed seven hours a week.
On Sept. 2, 2010, Anello pleaded guilty to submitting false claims for $120,000 worth of pension benefits through IBEW Local 237, as part of a plea bargain that saw the government drop the public corruption charge.
The plea bargain came four months after the United States Supreme Court all but struck down the honest services statute.
Anello was sentenced to 13 months by U.S. District Judge William Skretny. He served 10 months at Cumberland, Md., followed by two months in a halfway house, finishing his sentence in January, 2012.
Asked why he pleaded guilty, Anello answered simply, "I did do something wrong. I'm not trying to hide the fact that I worked more hours than I should have. I made a mistake and I admitted I made a mistake and I did so in open court.
"You are only allowed to work 40 hours a month and collect a pension. It was money I was not supposed to receive at the time," Anello told the Reporter. "If you are working, you are not supposed to be receiving the pension. That's what I violated. I never denied that."
After his return from prison camp, Anello immediately went proactive. He gave interviews with the media, then launched a call-in radio show on WJJL where he appears live on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a. m.
Despite a felony record, Anello could run for office. In New York, voting rights are restored after completion of sentence including parole.
"I feel good inside from the reception I got from the community when I came back. I love the city and an election is understanding that you have to get the votes. At this point I want to gauge it. It is, after all, up to the community to decide."
Reflecting on what it takes to go back in the ring, Anello said, "When I turned 19, I knew the Vietnam War was right around the corner. But I didn't miss the bus to go to Buffalo to sign up for the draft. I saw it then as public service.
"If I feel the people want a strong voice and an experienced voice I would have to consider it. I know I can do the work."
Asked how it would feel to get back in the political game, Anello said, "Anytime you get knocked on your back and stand up again, it is a great feeling in your gut. But anything I do now, I have to consider the effect on my family. The first handful of votes I would have to get will be my wife, my daughter, my sister, and others in my family."
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