Two FBI agents visited City Hall last week to subpoena more than six months' worth of documents and correspondence from the City Council secretary, as well as to ask questions about the city's budget process.
A federal grand jury is investigating a $40,000 interest-free loan Mayor Vince Anello received from developer Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Anderson while he was running for election in 2003.
Buffalo FBI spokesman Paul M. Moskal said Tuesday he couldn't comment on whether the subpoena is related to an investigation into the mayor's financial dealings. Investigators have subpoenaed information from city offices and conducted interviews in that probe since last spring, but this was the first FBI visit to City Hall in months.
Geri Mondi, Council secretary, said she received the subpoena last Wednesday with a list of documents to be compiled by next week, including the agendas, minutes and voting records from all Council meetings since Oct. 1. The agents also requested copies of any Council e-mails, letters or memos relating to any of those items.
Mondi said she was the only person in the office at the time of the visit.
Council Chairman Charles Walker said he hasn't been contacted and doesn't know why the information was requested.
In November, the Buffalo FBI office established a Public Corruption Task Force to investigate allegations of bribery, kickbacks or other illegal activity by elected officials.
But Moskal said the FBI wants to become a more familiar face in municipal offices across Western New York for other reasons. He said public offices should expect more frequent visits from agents, who believe getting information is easier from people they know and have met in person.
"I would think the public would like to hear that we're visiting offices," Moskal said, "not only to investigate possible illegal activity, but finding out how legal activity works so we can discern between the two."
Mondi said she spent an hour answering questions about how the city's budget process works and how a resolution gets onto the Council agenda. She said she told them that the city's budget process begins about Oct. 1 each year,
when the mayor's proposed budget is released.
"I'm not sure what they're looking for," Mondi said Tuesday. "I showed them where I keep all my records and told them I would have to work with other offices to acquire what I might be missing. The official agendas and minutes are in the law office."
On the same day, agents also stopped into the city's Human Resources office for the first time, said Joyce Serianni, the city's human relations director.
"They just asked, if they were looking for personnel records, would this be the office?" she said Tuesday. "There was no request."
In the Anello investigation, a city Law Department secretary and both Niagara County elections commissioners were subpoenaed last summer to testify before a grand jury and produce records related to Anello. Several Council members also have been interviewed. Moskal could not comment on the case but said the investigation is ongoing.
Anello has told The Buffalo News that Anderson loaned him $40,000, interest-free, as a favor, after he told Anderson that he needed money to pay off business debts for his electrical contracting company. He described Anderson as "an old friend" and said Anderson never asked for special treatment for his developments, which include two hotels, a bar, a pedestrian mall and Smokin' Joe's Family Fun Center, an indoor playground.
Anello said the agents did not come to his office last week and told a reporter on Tuesday, "You know more than I do."
When asked whether he had begun to repay the Anderson loan he said, "I'm not going to discuss the [electric] company's private business in the press. You have to understand it's a private business."