Two children's sports leagues had to pay cash to Buffalo parks workers to get their fields marked and their diamonds groomed, according to persons associated with the two leagues. And in one of the cases, the money eventually went to Parks Commissioner Robert E. Delano, according to knowledgeable sources.
Meanwhile, city parks workers were assigned to regularly groom a softball diamond in the Town of Tonawanda for an adult league organized by a friend of Delano, according to parks workers.
A city parks crew, soil and equipment were sent regularly during the past two years to the St. Timothy's Catholic Church diamond on East Park Drive in the Town of Tonawanda to prepare the field for teams in the Plant 6 Tavern league. That softball league of 50 teams is organized by Dave Niemann. Niemann's brother, Edward, is a Buffalo police officer assigned to the Parks Department.
"The city made sure they were playable and ready," a parks worker said of the Tonawanda diamond. "They were laid out with sandy loam and marked. The workers did whatever it took."
But the two youth leagues paid to get parks services.
One, the Delaware Soccer Club, gave a $400 check on Aug. 15, 1988, to Steven Marasco, a parks utility worker, as payment for marking six fields a week during the summer in and near Delaware Park.
The league thought it was paying for work done by two city employees working on their own time after hours, according to James F. Eagan, former league vice president. Eagan said he sought to hire help because the city never has lined the fields for the club, which organizes soccer games for some 500 youngsters.
The work was actually done on city time and the workers were directed to give the money to Delano, knowledgeable sources said.
Marasco initially tried to give Delano the check, but Delano refused to accept it, the sources said. Marasco then cashed the check and gave Delano the cash, the sources said.
Marasco, who has testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Parks Department, declined to be interviewed. The federal grand jury investigating parks corruption charges has heard testimony about Delano's receipt of the $400, sources confirmed.
Another youth league, the West Side Junior Boys Baseball League, made regular weekly payments of $60 to $90 to Thomas Nola, a parks utility worker, according to former Little League officials.
The money was paid between 1984 and 1986 with the understanding that Nola and another city worker would maintain five diamonds at LaSalle Park for the league, former Little League officials said. The payments were made in cash and with checks made out to cash. No payments were made after 1986.
The league budgeted approximately $400 per season for diamond upkeep, and parents were told about the payments during at least one league meeting, former league officials said.
"We weren't getting our diamonds done, and the only way to get them done was to pay," said a former league board member who asked not to be identified.
Another officer, who also asked not to be identified, said the work was actually done during the day on city time.
Nola has appeared before the grand jury, but he declined to answer reporters' questions.
City Court Judge Michael L. Broderick, a coach last year at LaSalle Park, said the West Side league got no help from the city in recent years to maintain the diamonds. Parents and the league last year paid to buy soil when the city told organizers they couldn't have any soil, he said.
"The kids that needed it the most got the least," said Broderick, who was active with several city youth baseball leagues.
At LaSalle Park, the city refused to empty trash cans, forcing league organizers to carry 50-gallon drums to the curb, he said. Broderick recalled chasing after city parks workers who were mowing the park grass for an adult softball diamond but skipping the children's Little League diamonds.
Broderick recalled the workers telling him, " 'We're under orders not to do anything here.' "
"They'd ride the mower past the baseball diamonds, and the kids would have to try finding the ball in 10-inch grass," he said.
Broderick, a former ally of Mayor Griffin, broke with him in 1988 when Griffin refused to appoint Broderick to City Court after he lost a close election. Broderick was elected without the mayor's support in November 1988.
In adult leagues, workers said the Parks Department gave favorable treatment to leagues that were run by Delano's friends.
"Some (city) diamonds got fixed and some didn't. It all depended on whether Delano liked you or not," said one adult league organizer who asked not to be identified.
Groups with personal and political ties to Griffin and Delano are favored by the Parks Department with groomed diamonds and choice times and locations, worker and softball league officials said.
The Buffalo Tennis & Racquetball Center, 2050 Elmwood Ave., where Griffin and Delano played handball until it went out of business last summer, got favored treatment on diamonds for its softball teams, a parks source said.
"Some diamonds are better than others," said a league source who asked not to be identified fearing reprisals during the upcoming softball season. "If the commissioner liked you or you were in the commissioner's favor, you were given those diamonds on the nights you wanted them. If it rained, those diamonds were fixed first."
Dave Niemann, who runs the Plant 6 league, said he doesn't know if parks workers groomed the diamond his teams use at St. Timothy Church in the Town of Tonawanda. Niemann said he needed the St. Timothy's diamond because the city couldn't give him enough diamonds to accommodate the 40 to 50 teams that play in his league.
Niemann said he has asked parks workers to work on his diamonds but did not pay anyone cash. Niemann said he expected that any work done on the Tonawanda diamond was done after work hours.
"I have a lot of friends. I'm not afraid to ask anyone for help," Niemann said. "If they came after hours, I can't speak for what they did. I know a lot of guys in the parks."