Bruce Battaglia was fired Thursday as publisher and chairman of the board of the Niagara Falls Reporter, a provocative weekly tabloid he launched nearly nine years ago with former Niagara Gazette reporter Mike Hudson.
The three-member board of directors -- including Battaglia -- met at the newspaper office on Buffalo Avenue to discuss what Hudson described as "financial irregularities" on Battaglia's part.
The other two board members -- Hudson, the editor, and Dan Cipollitti, a Niagara Falls restaurant owner -- voted in favor of the ouster. Battaglia voted to keep his job.
Hudson and Cipollitti voted to remove Battaglia as chairman of the board of directors and president of Niagara Roar Publications, the company that publishes the Reporter.
A meeting of about two dozen of the newspaper's more than 80 stakeholders followed and voted to remove Battaglia from the board of directors, ending his reign as publisher.
Cipollitti, who has no newspaper experience, was named acting publisher. He has been the company treasurer since its inception.
Hudson and Battaglia had been close friends until recently, when, Hudson claims, Battaglia began dipping into company money for his personal use, allegations that Battaglia has denied.
The situation boiled over when Battaglia shut down the newspaper for the last two weeks in September after he claimed Hudson wrote articles that were biased in favor of former Erie County Democratic Chairman G. Stephen Pigeon.
Pigeon is chief political aide to billionaire businessman and Buffalo Sabres owner B. Thomas Golisano and runs the three-time gubernatorial candidate's Responsible New York independent political committee.
Battaglia, who sat through both meetings, denied any financial improprieties when reached for comment Friday evening.
"From the beginning, every dollar in this company has been expensed and accounted for in tax filings with the state and the Internal Revenue Service," he said.
Battaglia called the financial allegations and his ouster "a red herring to confuse the real issue," which he said was attempts by Golisano and Pigeon "to take over the newspaper and compromise its credibility."
Battaglia, a former Niagara Falls city councilman and insurance agent, said his future plans are up in the air.
"In the last month, the editorial content of the paper reflects Pigeon and the Responsible New York perspective," Battaglia told The Buffalo News last week. "It's the news according to Pigeon. That's not what this paper is all about."
Battaglia said he recently attended a meeting with Hudson and another member of the Reporter's board of directors at which he learned Pigeon was prepared to spend more in advertising with the paper, but only if Battaglia was fired.
The Niagara Falls Reporter is for sale, but Hudson debunked talk that Golisano or Pigeon were potential buyers. Golisano has denied any interest in buying the paper.
The newspaper will resume publication next week, Hudson said.
He also said information about financial irregularities will be turned over to the Niagara County District Attorney's office.