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Gawel Bidding for Comeback With School Board Run

By Frank Parlato

Will Mike Gawel return to elected office this year?

Michael S. Gawel has joined the field of candidates running for the Niagara Falls School Board this year.

The election is May 21.

Gawel is a well known public figure here.

Prior to his 40th birthday, he was a prominent lawyer, a CPA, and in 1990 he became a Niagara Falls council member.

An FBI investigation into Gawel's work as an accountant for an alleged gambling ring resulted in his indictment on federal charges of money laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy.

While awaiting trial in October of 1994, he was arrested by Niagara Falls police and charged with drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

Despite being under indictment Gawel ran for re-election and lost.  In November, 1994, he was arrested by the FBI on witness intimidation charges.

According to Gawel, the FBI alleged he tried to intimidate one Nicolas Christopher.

"He was the snitch," Gawel said in an interview last week, “a child molester and a pedophile. I asked someone to keep an eye on him to see if we could raise character issues."

Ultimately, Gawel wound up serving 10 months of a 17-month sentence at the federal correctional facility at McKean, Pa., in 1995 and 1996. He was disbarred as an attorney and surrendered his CPA license.

Following his release from prison, Gawel served three years on parole and worked in a variety of jobs, mainly with small accounting firms.

In March of 1997, he was arrested for harassment, obstructing governmental administration and endangering the welfare of a child following a domestic incident at his 84th Street home. He pleaded guilty to a single count of harassment.

A month later, he was arrested by city police on a drunk-driving charge.

In 2003 Gawel  was chairman of the successful Niagara Wine, Food and Music Festival on Third Street. A dispute arose over concessions and it was reported that Gawel was the subject of an investigation by the Niagara County District Attorney’s Office. The investigation was soon dropped and Gawel was not charged with any wrongdoing.

Gawel also became developer Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Anderson's governmental liaison and one of his top business managers as Anderson acquired the Malibu (now the Ice House), the Quality Inn, the Budget Inn, the Wintergarden and the East Mall.

Gawel helped arrange $30,000 in payments from Anderson to then mayoral candidate Vince Anello in 2003. Gawel's signatures were on the check authorizations.

In 2004, after Anderson procured the lease for vending rights on the East Mall, Gawel became its manager. The East Mall had concerts every Friday and Saturday and, unlike the Hard Rock concert series, it did not cost taxpayers anything.

Gawel also attracted dozens of vendors who brought in revenue for Anderson and the city.  Unlike the taxpayer-funded Holiday Market, the Gawel-run East Mall cost taxpayers nothing and made money for the city.

"It was also good for Anderson's hotel," Gawel added.

Presently taxpayers pay about a million dollars for some half-dozen highly paid state "development" employees to manage the same mall Gawel managed singlehandedly at zero cost to taxpayers.

On December 11, 2004, Gawel was arrested by city police on charges of menacing, harassment, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest, arising from a domestic violence complaint, following a 911 call from a woman friend of Gawel's who was living at his home.

Gawel pleaded guilty to a single count of harassment.

The day after his arrest, Gawel served as a Republican poll-worker at the Knights of Columbus hall downtown for the school district referendum.

A few months later, he was involved in a confrontation stemming from a property line dispute between Anderson and his ex-wife, Gail Anderson, on the Tuscarora Reservation. State police and sheriff's deputies were called to the scene.

"Gail went to smack Joe and I got in between to break it up and she hit me," Gawel said. "The police asked if I wanted to have Gail arrested but I said no. It was the tipping point for Gail. Shortly thereafter, she went to the Reporter."

Gail provided the Reporter with copies of $30,000 in checks Gawel authorized from Anderson to Anello.

The Reporter broke the story in May, 2005.  This triggered an investigation and led to federal charges of corruption against Anello and Anderson. Anderson pleaded guilty to corruption charges as part of a plea bargain. Anello accepted a plea bargain that saw the corruption charges dropped in return for him admitting to defrauding his union pension fund.

Gawel was not charged.

Anderson fired Gawel in late 2005 following an incident that involved an altercation at one of Anderson's hotels.

In late 2005, Gawel began working for Len Wah Chong and her husband Allen Tsiu, as a payroll accountant and governmental liaison in their efforts to develop a massage parlor at 446 Third St., in the entertainment district.

A Reporter expose entitled "Gawel Pimping Massage Parlor in Third Street Entertainment District," was published in January, 2006, but public officials came out in numbers as the Lotus Spa opened with a gala ribbon-cutting ceremony in June of 2006.

A 15-month investigation by the Human Trafficking Task Force led federal authorities to raid the Lotus Spa in December, 2007, and it was alleged that the spa was actually a brothel that trafficked in illegal immigrants, bringing women to the area against their will and forcing them into prostitution.

"I was kind of shocked when they were arrested," Gawel said. "I didn't see anything going on wrong. They had a huge sauna. They spent $30,000 for this Oxygen thing that people sit in. ... I met the girls. We went for drinks, went to the casino. I dated one of them for three months. I had a couple massages, sure. But there was no sex involved that I witnessed."

United States District Judge William Skretney sentenced Chong in 2008 to a term of 72 months and five years of supervised release. She was ordered to forfeit property in the amount of $350,000 and ordered to pay restitution to 10 women who were victims of the sex slavery scheme in the amount of $350,000.

A judge, a sheriff and other public figures associated with the spa were sentenced to prison for their roles in the sex slavery business. Gawel was not charged.

Afterward he worked in a parking lot, ran a beer garden and managed a food court.

Finally, Gawel got his CPA license back and began to secure numerous clients.

He also went to work for Liberty Tax Service and also volunteered his time to a number of charitable organizations.  He was elected president of the Riverside Condominiums, where he presently lives. In 2011, he ran in a Republican primary for county legislator in the 5th District but had a poor showing, garnering just 80 votes.  Gawel said he realized his past record was “an issue with voters, but in terms of my ability to do a good job it is absolutely not an issue."

Last year, Gawel became the secretary for the Niagara Falls City Republican Committee.  He tried but failed in his attempt to get his law license back but says he will try again this year. Now he is running for school board.

Michael S. Gawel says he believes in comebacks and that the school district he seeks to represent needs to make one.

To do that, he says, "the school board must be more involved. The board is supposed to set policy. I don't think that is happening. They need to set the direction the school district is going in.

"To do that, board members need to spend a lot more time. If you are going to spend five hours a month, then you shouldn't be a board member.

"The board should get more input from parents and teachers and should invite more people to come to board meetings," Gawel said.

Gawel says he will make his cell phone number available publicly. "Anyone who has a problem can call me, anytime.  It is 622-0700. Publish it.  I turn it off in church. I turn it off when I'm in court. Otherwise, it's on 24 hours a day. If a parent or a teacher or anyone calls with a concern, let's face it, it is important to them."

Voters will get a chance to decide if Michael S. Gawel is the right man for the school board in less than a month.



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

May 07, 2013