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Our old friend John Gross pleaded guilty last week to a couple of federal felonies that had absolutely nothing to do with Niagara Falls city government.

Still, Mayor Paul Dyster apparently held a news conference.

"From what I know, as mayor of the city of Niagara Falls, it is my expectation that this is not the end of this investigation, but simply the beginning of the next phase," he told the Niagara Gazette and the Buffalo News.

The mayor's statement would seem to support the feeling voiced by many here that he was the informant who prompted the FBI investigation of Gross, former city building commissioner Guy Bax and city inspectors George Amendola and Pete Butry.

The Justice Department was also quick to credit Dyster.

"I would note the mayor has been extremely cooperative with our investigation," First Assistant United States Attorney J.P. Kennedy said.

Gross, 75, will do a little more than two years on counts of mail fraud and income tax evasion, but, oddly, he wasn't even the real focus of the mayor's vendetta. It was Bax whom Dyster was trying to eliminate.

Bax had made it clear to the mayor and City Administrator Donna Owens that he would not let the Inspections Department be used to play favorites by allowing favored developers to cut corners and punishing those who opposed the administration.

Dyster used the pretense of the investigation to suspend Bax, with pay, until Bax retired earlier this year. Getting Bax out of City Hall cost taxpayers more than $150,000, but opened up a spot for staunch Dyster ally Dennis Virtuoso, who was chosen to replace Bax.

The official reason given for Bax's suspension was that he'd had some work done on his house by Gross, and the two men saw each other socially. The fact that Gross has worked for years on the many rental properties owned by Virtuoso around the city was overlooked.

Dyster looked the other way when he discovered that the company doing most of the city's emergency demolition work was co-owned by a man who, in 2005, was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a major federal racketeering case.

And he looked the other way last week when 10 people were arrested on charges of grand larceny, receiving stolen property, drug possession and more as part of a criminal enterprise being operated out of a city-owned parking lot (see related story).

Like most other things about the man, the boast that he runs a "scandal-free" administration is a myth propagated chiefly by Dyster himself.
Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 2, 2011