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By Ron Churchill

Former Niagara Falls mayor Vince Anello will be kicking back in a Buffalo halfway house for the holidays, his 13-month federal prison sentence cut short for good behavior. Anello pleaded guilty last December to filing false documents in connection with illegally receiving pension benefits.

He began serving his sentence in February at Cumberland Correctional Institute in Maryland, a minimum-security prison, in a dormitory-like setting with no walls or guard towers.

He was released to an undisclosed Buffalo halfway house on Thursday, where he is scheduled to stay until Jan. 16, according to news reports. Anello, now 65, served approximately 10 months at Cumberland.

"It's not uncommon for inmates to be placed in some form of community corrections at the end of their sentence," said Edmond Ross, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons. "This acts as a bridge to be released back into the community."

The halfway house, which was not identified, is run by an independent contractor and is operated by the contracting staff. Ross said inmates are expected to abide by rules and regulations, to account for their time, and to look for employment.

In Anello's sentencing, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny also ordered Anello to repay $55,273 to the union, at least part of which he has already repaid.

The Reporter originally broke the story that Anello had, in 2003 while he was running for mayor, received $40,000 in under-the-table money from a prominent downtown businessman in return for no-bid contracts in the city. Anello, mayor of Niagara Falls from January 2004 until the end of 2007, claimed the money was a no-interest loan.

Anello, a retired electrician and electrical contractor, wound up pleading guilty to illegally receiving pension benefits in violation of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) -- essentially stealing about $55,000 from the pension fund of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 237, of which he was a member since 1969.

The government claimed that Anello, between March 2008 and March 2010, violated the pension rules by working more than the maximum 40 hours per month, while continuing to receive a $4,000-per-month pension. Anello, who told the union he was retired, continued to work nearly full-time as an electrician.

Following his stint at the halfway house, Anello will serve two years of supervised release. The case was investigated by the White Collar Crime Squad of the Buffalo FBI, the Labor Department, the Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 13, 2011