Mayor Vince Anello was charged Thursday with harassment, after a Niagara Falls Redevelopment executive claimed the mayor swore at him, threatened to spit in his face and tried to intimidate him during an argument on June 27, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said.
Clark said his office issued Anello an appearance ticket for a violation charge for the incident in which NFR Executive Vice President Roger Trevino claims Anello threatened him outside a 13th Street gym the company owns.
The violation carries upon conviction a maximum 15 days in jail and a $100 fine.
"Obviously, it's a matter of some notoriety because it involves the mayor, but quite frankly this is the least serious charge in the New York State penal law," Clark said.
Clark said the complaint was transferred to his office because Niagara County District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III "did not want any appearance of favoritism and impropriety." The Niagara Falls City Court
judges recused themselves from the case.
Clark said Trevino told police that the mayor made two harassing statements. In one, the mayor allegedly said he would spit in Trevino's face if he got out of his car. In the second, Anello allegedly said some people might shoot Trevino and urinate on his grave, Clark said.
The argument occurred about 9:20 a.m. June 27 outside a gym on 13th Street owned by NFR. Anello has confirmed he was at the building with the city's parks director after he learned that the firm had closed the building to a city youth breakfast program.
Anello, 62, declined to comment on the specific statements Trevino said he made. Anello, who is running for re-election and faces a five-candidate Democratic primary, claims the charges are politically motivated because he has refused as mayor to turn over several properties to NFR.
The firm has had exclusive development rights on 142 acres of prime downtown property for a decade, and Anello has expressed frustration in recent weeks that NFR has not developed any projects in the tract.
"Whatever transpires, I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to work tomorrow," said Anello, adding that he believes Trevino and NFR attorney John P. Bartolomei would like the charges to impact his election campaign. "We still have to address the fact that they're the ones that tried to stop those kids from getting their breakfast, and I already acknowledged that that made me angry."
Trevino did not return two calls seeking comment Thursday.
Anello will be arraigned next week in front of Chief Buffalo City Court Judge Thomas P. Amodeo, Clark said.
According to a police report filed the day of the incident, police responded to a call at the 13th Street building for two men fighting with the mayor, but determined it was a civil matter. Trevino filed the harassment complaint against the mayor later that day.
Trevino told officers he stayed in his car during the incident, but that Anello had threatened him and asked him to get out of his vehicle. He told police Anello repeatedly swore at him and called him a "Buffalo crook."
The city sold the 13th Street gym to NFR in 2005 for $213,897 under the development agreement. The Parks Department and Youth Bureau had been using the site with NFR's permission to host winter and summer recreation programs during the last two years.
After Anello held a news conference in May announcing that NFR's contract had expired, NFR then told the city it could not use the gym for youth programs until it met several conditions, including showing that the city had insurance for the building and conveying seven properties to NFR.
Anello said the complaint was a tactic taken by Trevino to advance NFR's interests.
"I would not give in to turning over some properties, and they've been trying to make my life a living hell," Anello said. "Certainly because I can't be intimidated, they're going to try to embarrass me."
Also on Thursday, The News learned that a challenge has been filed with the Niagara County Board of Elections against Anello's nominating petitions for the primary election. Anello said he was not aware of the challenge but expected his opponents to file one.