Gross Halfway Home
By Mike Hudson
John Gross, who was sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and filing a false tax return in July of 2011, is one step closer to returning home.
To the FBI, which investigated him for more than 30 years, Gross was code named “The Plumber,” but to many in Niagara Falls he was “Robin Hood,” possessing of a generosity of spirit and always ready to help the needy when a crisis arose.
He was transferred to a halfway house in Buffalo last week after serving more than a year at a minimum security facility in Pennsylvania, the Niagara Falls Reporter learned yesterday.
Gross was sentenced by U.S. Judge Richard Arcara to 33 months in prison in January, 2012. It was the lightest possible sentence Arcara could have imposed under federal sentencing guidelines.
Gross was sentenced for his guilty plea to single counts of mail fraud and aiding in the preparation of a false tax return. It was the third time he has been convicted of a federal crime and the second time he’s been sent to prison by Arcara.
But the judge refused to buy into the U.S. Attorney’s office characterization of Gross as some kind of upper echelon Mafioso.
“In the past (federal prosecutors) have painted him as some sort of Darth Vader,” Arcara said at the time of the sentencing.
But after reading more than 60 letters sent to him on Gross’ behalf, the judge said the letter writers make Gross appear to be “the brother of Mother Teresa.”
“The pictures are so stark. Who is this John Gross? How can anyone live such a double life?” Arcara asked. “He has a heart of gold, but he has the devil in him too.”
This wasn’t Gross’ first time away but it will be the first time he is returning to a city whose landscape has changed since his departure.
Before reporting to begin serving his sentence, the company owned by Gross’ son David was sold to local businessman Jerry Williams and is currently being run by Williams’ daughter Bridget.
Every morning at 7:30 a.m. sharp, Gross would be found starting his day behind a small desk in the lobby of the Niagara Street business that he and his family built and which supported dozens of families of loyal employees. The desk and many of the former employees are now gone as the business is moving in a different direction under the new ownership.
At 77 years of age, the question becomes what is in store for Gross once he returns home? With an abundance of former employees milling about, customers he’s taken care of for decades and a reputation as the top home improvement contractor on the Niagara Frontier, might Gross get back in the business?
Speculation has been rampant on Pine Avenue. Maybe he'll run for mayor, who knows?
Repeated attempts to reach him yesterday were unsuccessful, but we’re sure he’ll give us a call when he feels like talking.
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