Federal investigators now believe a local pool-supply retailer received several tons of the 11 tons of swimming pool chlorine missing from the Buffalo Parks Department.
The retailer received "a large amount" of the chlorine that disappeared from the department's storage facilities in the late 1980s, officials said Monday.
"We believe we know where a large amount of the chlorine went," said G. Robert Langford, special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office. "We believe it went to a retailer in the Buffalo area."
Authorities suspect the retailer received and resold at least three tons of the powdered chlorine, which was allegedly delivered to his store in trucks driven by city parks workers, sources close to the Parks Department investigation told The Buffalo News.
"There are a lot of questions still to be answered about the chlorine, but this appears to be where the largest amount went," said one source close to the case.
What happened to the rest of the chlorine remains a mystery, the sources said.
Langford declined to say which retailer is under investigation or whether criminal charges are near.
U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco was out of town late Monday and could not be reached to comment on the reports. Russell Buscaglia, a Vacco aide who is overseeing the 17-month-old parks probe, said he could not confirm or
deny anything about the chlorine.
Buffalo Comptroller Joel A. Giambra said he hopes the FBI is able to determine the whereabouts of the chlorine.
"We were always led to believe the Parks Department needed that chlorine for the city pools," said Giambra, who was a Common Council member at the time the chlorine was purchased. "There has been a lot of speculation about it. If it did end up with a private concern, we've all been duped, and it was illegal."
Federal investigators, Common Council members, city auditors and Mayor Griffin have been asking questions about the chlorine since Nov. 29, 1989, when The News revealed that the Parks Department, under Superintendent Robert E. Delano, was buying tons of a chlorine product that hasn't been used in city pools in years.
FBI agents seized the city's records on more than $24,000 worth of chlorine purchases authorized by Delano between 1988 and 1989, The News reported at the time.
The product -- HTH granulated chlorine -- is widely used in backyard swimming pools, but is generally considered obsolete for use in large municipal pools. According to city records, the product cost the city $108 to $137 per 100-pound barrel, depending on the amount purchased.
Griffin said at an April news conference that he, too, was mystified by the purchases and had asked Delano's successor, acting Parks Commissioner Stanley Buczkowski, to investigate. He said Buczkowski told him more than 11 tons was unaccounted for.
The mayor added that he was unsatisfied with an explanation from Delano that the chlorine was used to line city softball diamonds, and baseball grounds-keeping experts said that use for chlorine was unheard of.
Although there have been allegations that city workers sold some of the granulated chlorine or distributed it to friends, no charges have been filed in the case.
Vacco said last week that the parks probe could end this month but may continue on into January or February.
"We are still very interested in any information on what happened to any of this chlorine," Langford said Monday.
He asked that anyone with information on the chlorine call the Buffalo FBI office.
Regardless of its outcome, the case of the missing chlorine "has opened a lot of eyes in city government," Giambra said.
"In a perverted sense, it has been good for the city that all this came out," the comptroller said. "In the past, we always trusted the word of the city department heads. If they said they needed to buy certain equipment to run their departments, we were likely to take their word for it.
"Now it's different. We are taking a lot closer look at city purchase requests. The attitude now is, if there's a rock, let's look under it."