An attorney representing Vince Anello said Thursday that he expects the former Niagara Falls mayor to be charged criminally within the next few weeks in connection with a lengthy FBI investigation into alleged government corruption.
While declining to say what led him to that conclusion, defense attorney Joel L. Daniels said there are "very strong indications" that Anello will be charged.
"This has been a long, long investigation, and Vince Anello has cooperated fully from Day One. He denies any wrongdoing," Daniels said. "I don't know what information the FBI has now that it hasn't had for years, but it does appear as though they're getting ready to charge him."
Agents from the Buffalo office of the FBI have been investigating Anello's dealings with businessman Joseph Anderson since at least the early part of 2005, authorities said.
Public documents sought by federal investigators this year have appeared to focus on two deals that Anderson's companies struck with the city -- a no-bid lease for a city pedestrian mall and the 2003 sale of the
former Wintergarden to a company Anderson helped lead.
Daniels said he does not know what charge or charges might be filed against Anello.
Three sources familiar with the case told The Buffalo News that federal agents and prosecutors have intensified their interest in the case and that criminal charges could be filed within the next few weeks.
U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, who has been overseeing the investigation, said he could not comment on whether his office expects to file charges. "I'm not going to confirm or deny any of that," he said.
Anderson's attorney, Terrence M. Connors, declined to speculate on whether anyone might be charged.
"I can only say that from the beginning, [Anderson] has been candid and forthright with the government," Connors said.
Speaking generally about investigations into alleged political corruption, Flynn said such probes sometimes take a long time because it can be difficult to obtain cooperation from knowledgeable witnesses.
"When you are looking at a person who has been voted into a position of public trust by the public, you have to make sure you have sufficient proof to move forward," Flynn said. "It can be difficult and time-consuming to get people to come forward with information that we can corroborate."
According to sources close to the case, at least one of the documents detailing the financial arrangements between Anello and Anderson dates from November 2003. The five-year statute of limitations on prosecuting that aspect of the case could run out next month.
The News has reported in the past that FBI agents were examining a "check request form" dated Nov. 12, 2003, on Anderson's business stationery. The form directed that a check for $10,000 be sent to "Vincenzo Anello."
As the reason for the payment, the form had the word "contribution" written in, but "contribution" had been crossed out and replaced with the words "loan promissory note."
During an interview in October 2005, Anello told The News that Anderson was an old friend who had lent him a total of $40,000 so Anello could pay off some old business debts. Anello said Anderson never received any special treatment from the city in exchange for the loans.
The $40,000 in loans to Anello were made in 2003, when Anello was a City Council member running for mayor and shortly after he was elected mayor.
In March 2004, shortly after Anello took office, the city gave a company in which Anderson was a partner a 30-year, no-bid vending lease for the East Pedestrian Mall, a strip of land that connects the former Wintergarden to the Seneca Niagara Casino.
Another partnership that involved Anderson purchased the Wintergarden for $1 million from the city in May 2003 when Irene J. Elia was mayor and Anello was a Council member. The city first gave the company, Wintergarden Entertainment, the option to purchase the building in a 1999 lease. The city renegotiated the agreement in 2002.
Council members later complained that Anderson's company was not charged for electricity used on the East Pedestrian Mall. Anderson late last year paid $44,399 to the city for electricity on the mall dating from 2004 after receiving a bill for the utility charges for the first time.
Now a state agency, USA Niagara Development Corp., is in the process of purchasing both the Wintergarden and the East Pedestrian Mall lease from Anderson for $1.6 million so that it can move forward with a development project.
Another company controlled by Anderson, S.J. Anderson Graphics & Embroidery, was awarded a $70,305 low-interest loan from a city development agency in October 2004. It was one of six loans given by that agency during the same year.
Anello was mayor in the Falls from 2004 through 2007. The federal investigation appeared to intensify this year after he left office.
Federal investigators in May and June sought hundreds of pages of documents from the city clerk's office and the city controller's office that dated from 2002 to 2007, including Council meeting minutes and correspondance related to the East Pedestrian Mall and the sale of the Wintergarden.
Documents sought also included records related to a lease agreement for the East Pedestrian Mall, to the lease and sale of the Wintergarden and to electrical service on the East Pedestrian Mall, the Wintergarden and two other downtown public properties.
In June, federal investigators sought two city computers, a backup computer file and the e-mail boxes of Anello, his secretary and his first city administrator, Daniel Bristol.
A source in Niagara Falls City Hall said that two Council members, Robert Anderson Jr. and Charles A. Walker, and former Councilman Lewis "Babe" Rotella are scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury today.
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