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By Mike Hudson

Mayor Paul Dyster prides himself on the job he's done "cleaning up" the city's Inspections Department. He went after former building commissioner Guy Bax as though the longtime civil servant was Al Capone, calling in the FBI in an idiotic attempt to prove Bax was something other than what he appeared to be -- as honest as the day is long.

Dyster likewise ruined the careers of inspectors Pete Butry and George Amendola, publicly accusing them of some sort of shenanigans he was never too specific about, putting them on limited duty and creating a completely unnecessary manpower shortage in the department that ratcheted up the dangerous conditions in the city's neighborhoods inspectors are supposed to address.

Bax, Amendola and Butry were named publicly in a search warrant executed by FBI and IRS agents back in June of 2009. The investigation was the result of tips from a confidential informant many believe was Dyster himself. The names of the three men were dragged through the mud by the sensationalist, pro-Dyster mainstream media here, their families suffered a lot of grief and, ultimately, no evidence of wrongdoing has been found against any of them.

We know this because no grand jury has been seated, and if the feds had a lick of evidence against any of the men, that would have been a top priority.

Dyster, of course, had an ulterior motive for wanting to dismantle the Inspections Department. When he ordered Bax to do things that Bax says were patently illegal in connection with the administration's ongoing war with the owners of the One Niagara building, the veteran building commissioner refused to play ball.

After accusing Bax of being a criminal, linked to the city's most respected plumber -- John Gross -- because Gross' company had done some work on the Bax home, Dyster was able to appoint sycophant Dennis Virtuoso to Bax's former position, despite the fact that Gross had worked for years on the many rental properties Virtuoso owns throughout the city's most blighted and disadvantaged slums.

Virtuoso returned the favor by immediately making a company controlled by former Laborers Local 91 business agent and onetime unindicted co-conspirator in a federal racketeering case Rico Liberale -- Regional Environmental Demolition -- the city's most favored contractor for demolitions.

And as recently as May, Liberale's partner, Chuck Van Epps, had at least four outstanding arrest warrants on file with the city police for repeated cases of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle dating back to 2008.

Virtuoso's next brilliant move was to hire a young man named Joe Chick as a building inspector, in order to make up for the manpower shortage his pal Dyster had created.

Chick has proven himself to be an ambitious individual. In addition to his duties as a city inspector, he's associated with a company called Construction Solutions Inc.

Documents made available to the Niagara Falls Reporter show that Chick has bid repeatedly on jobs throughout the city that inspectors would later have to sign off on.

The conflict of interest is more than apparent, especially in light of the fact that Chick's bid form is printed with the motto "Make checks payable to Joseph Chick" at the bottom.

Additional documents show that, as recently as May of this year, a home owned by Chick on 82nd Street was cited by his colleagues in the department for electrical wiring infractions.

Under Virtuoso's curious brand of leadership, the Inspections Department, which Dyster renamed the Code Enforcement Department, has become a pathetic joke. One can look on almost any block in the city to find ramshackle buildings, often abandoned completely by owners who will never face fines or retribution of any kind from the toothless bureaucracy.

Virtuoso continues to rake in tens of thousands of dollars in overtime, despite being paid as a city department head, something clearly forbidden in the city charter.

Liberale and Van Epps, two characters from some unintentionally funny underworld comic book, still enjoy most favored contractor status, in spite of or perhaps because of their widely publicized brushes with the law.

And young Joe Chick, perhaps the cleverest of them all, uses his juice as a city inspector to profit in a private business that allegedly fixes problems that result in a thumbs down from the department he works for.

Is he selling his abilities as a contractor or his status as a key city employee?

It's a fair question. And another fair question might be asked of Dyster.

Mayor, why would you want to besmirch the reputations and destroy the careers of three hardworking city inspectors to spend even more money promoting the interests of a band of junior racketeers and their political patron?

As we've done every year for the past dozen, we're going to take off the week between Christmas and New Years.

Here's hoping that you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season, as difficult as that may be here in the town rapidly becoming known as Dysterville.

We'll see you all in 2012.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Dec. 20, 2011