By Frank Parlato;
Firing him on the last day before his job became protected by civil service law, Mayor Paul Dyster has fired Johnny Destino, the director of purchasing for Niagara Falls.
Destino was hired in May 2015, shortly after Dyster announced he was running for reelection as mayor of Niagara Falls.
Destino was fired Friday, Jan. 8, 2017, more than a year into Dyster’s third term and with hours to go before the six month probationary period for civil service positions was set to expire.
At the close of business Friday, Destino’s job would have automatically converted from the “at will” prerogative of the mayor to a non-political civil service position.
Dyster did not appear in person to inform Destino he was discharged from his city hall position, one that Dyster originally, reportedly lured Destino to accept. The job came with a series of conditions mandated by Dyster, including that Destino, who is a lawyer, give up certain law clients and that he not speak with the Niagara Falls Reporter.
On Friday, Niagara Falls Police officers were directed to escort Destino out of the building after retrieving his keys and city cell phone. There was no incident, arrest or allegations of any crime, Dyster confirmed to the Niagara Gazette.
The timing could not have been worse for Destino, he told the Reporter. His wife is expecting their fourth child and is due in late March.
While it is not a criminal matter as far as Destino is concerned, there are indications that this and other firings, and the hiring of certain employees and the timing of each may attract the interest of the Public Corruption Unit of the FBI.Destino told the Reporter that he has learned of matters concerning the Dyster Administration which may be of significant interest to the public, and that they may require several stories to relate in moderate depth.
Destino, a lawyer, declined to say on the record whether or not he witnessed criminality in procurement, or elsewhere, at city hall. He did confirm the mayor chose to fire him “by surprise” as opposed to confronting him civilly, directly, and “like a man”.
Destino claims he does not know the true reason for his firing or whether Dyster was concerned Destino was aware of suspected illegal activities concerning Dyster’s reelection campaign or his conduct in the procurement of financing for the so-called Hamister Hotel.
Destino told the Reporter that Dyster conducted an investigation into his work performance, possibly with the intent of using the results as cause to fire him, but the investigator made a finding of no wrongdoing.
Some observers found it of interest in the past that Dyster, who ran against Destino in 2011 and narrowly beat him, would choose to hire him four years later, just as rumors of Destino planning to run against him had surfaced.
Dyster was known to have spoken with Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster in early 2015 in the days prior to his announcement that he would be running for mayor. It is not known with certainty how or why Dyster approached Destino or who made the offer for a job at city hall. It is known that Destino was interviewed for that of ITT Director. Four months earlier Dyster had eliminated the position, which required him to fire long time ITT manager, John Cahill by eliminating the job title.
Dyster later offered Destino the position of purchasing director, which he accepted. Ironically the position had been vacant for nearly three years following the retirement of Dean Spring.
It initially paid $62,000. The appearance of Dyster trying to lure a potential political opponent, Destino, into taking a long vacant position at election time is not without its prospects of suspect behavior.
If these were willful acts on the part of Dyster, the act is squarely on the mayor, who has a duty of public trust.
Making appearances more suspicious is that during that same election cycle, Dyster eliminated some jobs and created others, as he fired, and hired, and transferred city hall workers. The ones who were fired seemed to be either unwilling or unable to assist meaningfully in his campaign. Those who were hired during this stampede of arrivals and departures wound up working on his reelection campaign. During the time Dyster was planning and activating his campaign, city hall underwent a taxpayer funded game of musical chairs.
The hiring of Destino, the firing of John Cahill, the coercive relocating of Bridgette Myles, the happy relocating of Ryan Undercoffer, the assignment of duties, personnel and entities to Seth Piccirillo, the timing of the hiring of Nick Melson, the hiring, and duties of Brook D’Angelo, and others, at taxpayer expense, during a primary election effort which Dyster won by only 60 votes, points to Dyster, not the employees under his direction, as a possible target in an investigation of public corruption.
The firing of Maria Brown, the full time controller of the city, to be replaced by a part time controller, is said to have attracted the attention of the New York State Comptroller. Then there’s the firing of city engineer, Jeffrey Skurka and then refusing to hire a city engineer, then successively awarding no bid and wildly conflated contracts to certain engineers who donated to the mayor, and the recent firing of City Clerk Carol Antonucci, against her wishes and who witnessed Dyster procure, by what is almost certainly fraud, a stamp to make a document which was blank and a counterfeit appear to be an official city contract. It is believed to have been used to commit bank fraud in connection to the Hamister Hotel. The Reporter has seen written evidence that the US Attorneys office has expressed interest in obtaining further information about this potential criminal matter.