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Dyster's Favorite Law Firm Behind Oishei "Gift"

By Mike Hudson

Mayor Paul Dyster has piled legal work on only one law firm.
Robert Gioia came to the council offering a matching grant.
James M. Wadworth of Hodgson Russ and the Oishei Foundation.
Councilman Sam Fruscione said, "Never look a gift horse in the mouth? No, you look him in the belly."

It seems there's more to the Oishei matching grant offer to help the NACC than meets the eye, and it may not be as charitable and philanthropic as it seems on its face when all the facts come to light.

The Niagara Falls Reporter has found a financial connection between the Oishei Foundation and the Dyster Administration that may go a long way to explain the foundation's interest in boosting the mayor's efforts to fund the NACC in the face of City Council opposition.

It turns out that the chairman of the board of Oishei, James M. Wadsworth, is also a partner in the Buffalo law firm of Hodgson Russ which gets all outside legal counsel work for the City of Niagara Falls, a fact not previously reported in any local media.

Dyster has hired Hodgson Russ so often that the firm has billed the city as much as $500,000 since Dyster began using them in lieu of the city's law department in 2009. They billed the city $149,588 in 2009 alone.

In fact there is a running joke inside City Hall, we're told, and it goes like this: "Every time a lawsuit is filed against the city, another Hodgson Russ lawyer gets his wings."

It fuels suspicion in some quarters, including ours, that now the firm's chairman seems to be returning the favor by trying to channel public tax money towards the mayor's favorite charity and making Dyster's opponents on the council look bad in the bargain.

It was Oishei President Robert Gioia who stepped up to the podium in the City Hall chambers and made an offer to provide up to $15,000 in matching funding for the NACC if the council would kick in a like amount. But it was Wadsworth - Gioia's boss at Oishei - who was directing the political theater.

Neither the council nor the public was made aware of Wadsworth or the Hodgson Russ connection or why Oishei was taking such a sudden interest in the NACC.  Local newspapers were critical of the council for turning down the deal.

Dyster was instrumental in the creation of the NACC, has funneled hundreds of thousands of public dollars to it over the years and his father, Dr. Melvin Dyster, sits on the NACC board of directors.

The NACC's main fund-raising event - the Art of Beer festival - is supported by Dyster and sponsored by the mayor's Tonawanda-based craft brewing business, which in turn benefits directly from the media attention to craft brewing generated by the event.

Make no mistake, Dyster and his supporters use the NACC as a base of political operations in the city. And the NACC-Oishei-Hodgson Russ connection is political cronyism-and possibly more-- at its worst.

Mayor Dyster has hired the Hodgson Russ firm repeatedly at taxpayer expense to handle all manner of problems that arguably could and should be handled by the lawyers in the city's own paid legal team.

Hodgson Russ has represented the city in the lawsuit with Man O' Trees concerning Lewiston Road; the legal appeal of two city employees challenging the city's residency law; the defense of the city for a planned lawsuit by Clarence Bradley; the lawsuit brought by One Niagara for illegally interfering with the owner's right to develop the property; the lawsuit for money owed by the city to the Resetarits Company in relation to the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center and other legal matters.

For years we have been puzzled as to why Dyster never seemed to fear lawsuits. In fact, he has often appeared to go out of his way to attract lawsuits. His rather strange pro-litigation attitude is easier to understand when it becomes clear that legal troubles for Dyster and the city translate into lucrative paydays for his good friends at Hodgson Russ.

So here's the picture: Dyster hires Hodgson Russ exclusively to do the city's legal work; Dyster uses his relationship with Hodgson Russ partner and Oishei Chairman Wadsworth to have Oishei President Robert Gioia sent on a personal mission to the City Council chambers in an attempt to shame and embarrass the council majority who are political opponents of the mayor and to help political supporters at the NACC.

The council refused the Oishei fund-raising challenge but they paid a price in criticism leveled at them by the media. Critics of the council majority claimed that council members were both unappreciative of the offer and needlessly paranoid as to their concerns of influence peddling and political improprieties.

Ironically, it turns out they didn't even know how bad the situation was.

And is.




Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Apr03, 2013