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Underground Railroad Commission Has Not Accounted for Money

By Frank Parlato

A required report showing how $350,000 of casino money was spent by the Underground Railroad Heritage Commission has not been filed with the City of Niagara Falls, according to city records.

The Underground Railroad Heritage Commission was created by, and is the brainchild of, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

By law, organizations that receive casino money must file a report with the state and city to show how they spend the money.

Following the publication of an article in the Niagara Falls Reporter last May 22, where it was reported that the Underground Railroad Heritage Commission was two years late in filing a financial accounting of $350,000 in casino money it received, the attorney for the commission, Lawrence Rubin, filed a report on May 29, 2012 for the 2010 year.

The report showed that in the first few months of receiving the money, almost none of it was spent.

It is now almost three years since the commission got their check on July 1, 2010. Once again, they are two years late in filing.

"I only have to date a 2010 financial report," City Controller Maria Brown wrote in response to a FOIL request. "They never sent to the City (the) 2011 (report)."

This is not all the city is waiting for either.

The $40,000 was used so that the Heritage Commission could contribute their share to secure a $106,739 grant that came from NYS Community Capital Assistance Program, which provides grants for cultural and artistic endeavors. The grant money was said to be used to hire Riggs Ward Design, a development and design firm located in Richmond, Va.. Brown confirmed the money has not been repaid.

"Of this money, they (promised to repay)….. We still have not been paid the $40,000." The missing report might give us some insight into why the Heritage Commission has not paid back the city, how much they have spent on various consultants, and why, after more than four years of planning, the ribbon has not been cut on the tiny Underground Railroad Interpretive exhibit that is planned to open in the old Customs House on Whirlpool St.



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

Mar12 , 2013