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Buffalo Parks Commissioner Robert E. Delano's closest confidant could become the latest to help federal agents investigate the disappearance of 11 tons of chlorine and other matters in the 18-month-long Parks Department probe.

Delaware Park Superintendent Ed Graci -- who oversaw work assignments and the alleged distribution of chlorine, as well as reported collections of donations to Delano from parks employees -- was seen in the office of U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco late Thursday. His visit came amid reports that he is about to become a government witness.

Graci's meeting came several hours after Deputy Parks Commissioner Mark T. "Murph" Czajkowski, another top Delano aide, testified before a grand jury after reaching a plea bargain with federal authorities.

Graci was seen entering the office in U.S. District Court, where he was greeted by Michael Vincent, the lead FBI agent in the investigation. Gerald M. Trafalski, Graci's attorney, was seen entering the office shortly before Graci.

A source close to the probe said Graci, a veteran city employee, is negotiating a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and, under the agreement, would provide information on a wide range of department activities.

Graci's involvement would be the biggest break yet, the source said.

"Nobody in the department was closer than Ed Graci to the department and the way things were run. Nobody," one parks worker said.

Joseph M. LaTona, Czajkowski's attorney, said the deputy commissioner plans to resign and will plead guilty to a misdemeanor public corruption charge, The Buffalo News reported Thursday.

Although Czajkowski was technically second in command to Delano, Graci was his closest confidant, many parks employees told The News. They said work assignments and opportunities for overtime pay were more likely to come
through Graci than the deputy commissioner. They added that Graci also was in charge of collecting Christmas and birthday donations for Delano.

In 1989 alone, according to city records, Graci was paid $16,000 in overtime, above his base salary of $24,000.

Vacco would not confirm or deny any reports on plea negotiations with Czajkowski and Graci.

"I will confirm that Mr. Murph (Czajkowski) was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury today," Vacco said. "I will also confirm your observation about Mr. Graci being in my office today."

Asked about the progress of the investigation, Vacco said: "We're moving. The fact that we're still interviewing witnesses and putting people before the grand jury is an indication that this investigation will not be complete this calendar year."

Delano has been on a leave of absence from his parks post since February.

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