|Rick Crogan (above) delivered crowds in excess of 18,000 to his festival without costing taxpayers a dime!
|More than $481,000 of public money was given to Mark Rivers, the developer of the Niagara Holiday Market (above). Where did that money go? Nobody knows and, what’s more, nobody in law enforcement cares. Why? And if anybody thinks moe than half a million dollars went into that Holiday Market, they are out of their minds.
Whose toes did he step on?
That was the question a lot of people were asking last week as news spread concerning former Main Street Business Association President Rick Crogan who was arraigned on two felony counts of grand larceny relating to the alleged embezzlement of $15,000 donated for the Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival.
Crogan served as chairman of the event.
Niagara Falls Police Capt. William Thompson said the charges were brought against Crogan as part of an investigation by the Niagara Falls Police Department and the Niagara County Sherriff's Office. The investigation was prompted by a tip from someone inside the festival organization, Thompson said.
The Niagara Falls Reporter learned that tip came from Becky Chappell Marchetti, an employee of Encompass Niagara Credit Union, who opened up the bank accounts for Balibans LLC, Crogan's for-profit company.
According to documents viewed by the Reporter, Marchetti added her name as one of the signatories to the bank account. Marchetti is also president of Niagara Rises, a local organization that sponsors events to promote the area and employment opportunities here.
The Reporter contacted Marchetti in December when rumors of these allegations first surfaced. She declined comment and referred us to her lawyer, Robert LaDuca, a local lawyer, who for years was an assistant Niagara County district attorney.
LaDuca said his client would not comment at the time.
Niagara Falls police and Niagara County Sheriff's investigators interviewed a number of Crogan's sponsors and it is known that Marchetti gave a deposition.
Niagara County Undersheriff Michael Filicetti said that the investigation is ongoing and, pending these results, it is possible that further charges may be filed at a later date..
Meanwhile, who gets investigated and who does not has always been an interesting topic of coffee shop or barroom conversation here in Niagara Falls, and the Crogan case is no exception.
The standard rule is, "it is not what you do, but who does it," that determines whether or not one is investigated or for that matter charged with wrongdoing.
Crogan is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and should be given the benefit of the doubt. But why were his personal banking records examined and the festival's records gone over with a fine tooth comb when other, perhaps more glaring, examples of possible hanky-panky have been left unexamined?
Nearly a half-million dollars went missing in 2011-12 when Idaho snake oil salesman Mark Rivers convinced our clueless mayor, Paul Dyster, to pony up some big bucks for the Holiday Market, a winter festival that was by any measure an utter disaster.
Rivers managed to cajole a total of $481,000 from the city and the state's USA Niagara Development Corp. to stage the 37-day event here based on the promise of 250,000 people visiting downtown Niagara Falls in the dead of winter to ice skate, buy holiday treats, and listen to concerts.??
As a condition for the public money, Rivers promised to match public money dollar for dollar with his own money.
In the end, the Holiday Market drew perhaps a tenth of the number of people Rivers said it would, nobody wanted to ice skate on the substandard rink, and every concert he staged lost money.
And anyone who knows anything about construction costs who looked at the ultimate marketplace Rivers created knows that not only did he not invest a dime of his own money but he did not even invest even half the public money he was given to develop the market.
What happened to as much as $240,000 or missing public money? ?
Rivers had promised some 80 vendors but in reality saw less than half that number on any given day, with Rivers himself running as many as seven booths in order to make it look busier than it was.
And the entire $481,000 of public money that was supposed to lure in a quarter-of-a-million shoppers, with the profits going back to the city? Lost? Where? The market lost every dime?
No one believed that the ramshackle festival lost half a million, much less a million. Or that the public money Rivers was handed all went toward the shabby market and its 30 red wooden shacks used as vendor booths - that later sold for as little as $100 each by the city.
Rivers was never required to produce any paperwork showing what happened. With the help of Mayor Paul Dyster, the promoter was able to slither back to Idaho unmolested, despite calls from numerous local politicians, the Niagara Falls Reporter, and Buffalo's Artvoice for an investigation and accounting.
So why did Crogan get investigated? At this point, nobody seems to know. But, as the case develops, it is likely that some hidden hand will make itself visible, someone he offended or who held a grudge.
Last December, when the matter first surfaced, the Reporter visited Crogan at his home. He offered to show all the documentation.
"My biggest mistake was that I trusted people," Crogan said at the time. "There was not an attempt to hide anything from anybody directly involved in the festival."
Perhaps a clue lies in the fact that Crogan had no public funding. That may be the true outrage; no public money was used!
The Reporter briefly examined bank records and some of the other expenditures, and Crogan said he was ready to explain every expenditure.
"There are receipts for everything and that's the bottom line. There is nothing that can't be documented," he said in December.
Could this be a case where someone decided to prosecute Crogan because he was standing in the way of a long planned scheme?
Let's face it, if Crogan could successfully operate a music festival with no big-name acts and draw 18,000 people (as he did last year) without public funding, it is all over for Dyster and his publicly funded concerts like the Hard Rock Cafe series (which never drew more than a few thousand) or the Blues Festival, which are dependent on government financing.
Sure, the rumor in town is that Dyster wanted to put Crogan out of business and let the Hard Rock take over his music event - with public funding of course. At this point it is only a rumor.
Niagara Falls Police Supt Bryan DalPorto told the Reporter that, as far as he knew, Dyster had nothing to do with the initial complaint and added no direct impetus or input into the investigation.
But, whether Dyster was personally involved in the investigation of Crogan or not, why would a mayor want to use public money when a concert promoter like Crogan could do so without public money?
As recently as last month Crogan told the Reporter that Dyster had tried to offer him as much as $30,000 of public money for the music festival in return for greater control and Crogan turned him down.
Is Dyster hoping to take the $40,000 of casino money he recently tried to get the council to approve to bring back the Hard Rock concert series for the music festival?
Will Dyster seek to pull Crogan's permits to do the festival and hand it over to Hard Rock?
Last year, Crogan resigned as president of the Main Street Business Association. He said it wasn't because he'd succeeded in attracting but one new business to the bombed out thoroughfare during the three years he held the position, but because some members of the City Council refused to endorse the now moribund Hamister hotel project as enthusiastically as he did.
That was strange, and what happened to him last week was stranger still.