<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By Mike Hudson

The results are in. The great witch hunt, begun with allegations of corruption in the city's Inspections Department made by Mayor Paul Dyster, has resulted in the potential prosecution of popular local plumbing contractor John Gross on charges dealing with the amount of income tax he paid back in 2007.

In July 2009, agents from the FBI and IRS swept into City Hall and raided several of Gross' business locations around the city. Dyster had supplied information to the feds alleging that three top city inspectors -- Guy Bax, George Amendola and Pete Butry -- were taking gifts or money from Gross in return for favorable treatment.

But according to documents filed last week with U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara, no evidence of any such corruption was found.

Bax was suspended with pay for nearly two years before retiring, while Amendola and Butry were allowed to return to work on restricted duty. Between the cost of overtime to pay remaining inspectors and the cost of hiring temporary inspectors with dubious qualifications, the entire boondoggle is thought to have cost city taxpayers upwards of $1 million.

Gross, who has been called the "Robin Hood of Niagara Street," is known to have done work on Bax's personal residence, though Bax provided FBI agents with extensive documentation showing that he paid for the cost of materials, labor and overhead on the project.

Gross has also been a prime contractor on the many rental properties around the city belonging to Dennis Virtuoso, who was named by Dyster to replace Bax. It is not known whether Virtuoso was required to produce receipts relating to those numerous projects. And Dyster -- who used Bax's relationship with Gross as the main reason for his suspension -- has never said a word about Virtuoso's relationship.

Comically, he's never said anything about the nearly $3,000 he received from Gross in the form of campaign contributions in 2007 and 2008 either, although his father, Dr. Melvin Dyster, wrote the contractor a long letter attesting to Gross' sterling qualities and good citizenship.

Dyster's history with Bax had been stormy from the beginning, dating back to when Dyster took office in January 2008. According to Bax, Dyster and city Planner Tom DeSantis instructed him not to sign off on any work done at the One Niagara Building, a tourist operation the city was trying to close.

Bax refused to comply with the orders on the grounds that it would be illegal to do as he was told, and he suddenly found himself on the outs with the FBI, he said.

Gross may be facing one count each of mail fraud and aiding in the preparation of a false tax return. Certainly this wasn't what agents expected to discover when they swept down on the city en masse three years ago.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 28, 2011