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Legal woes continue for unlicensed B&B Niagara Falls is prosecuting owner on building code violations

A Niagara County grand jury has asked for evidence about the unlicensed bed-and-breakfast where a 12-year-old Bronx girl was staying when she drowned in the Niagara River during the summer.

Meanwhile, less than two months since the drowning, the City of Niagara Falls is prosecuting the woman who ran the facility on building code violations.

The city's Building Inspections Department was served with a subpoena by the Niagara County district attorney's office in late August, and city inspectors had given Eva Hedges until the end of September to bring the property up to code, according to city records obtained by The Buffalo News.

She has not, those records indicate.

As the legal proceedings move forward, a neighbor said Renaissance House, as the home at 722 Fourth St. had been known, hosted house guests last weekend despite a previous order by the city to cease operations as a bed-and-breakfast.

A subpoena ordered the city to produce documents before a grand jury beginning Aug. 26, according to city records. The documents included items related to construction and remodeling at Renaissance House, as well as any contractor work on the property.

Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante, whose office sent investigators to the Fourth Street home about a week after 12-year-old Magdalena Lubowski went missing, did not return a call to comment.

Police said Hedges' son, Timothy, allowed a group of 23 youths to travel more than 500 feet off a marked trail in the Niagara Gorge -- the most difficult trail in the gorge -- when Magdalena slipped off a rock and into the fast-moving rapids on Aug. 13.

Her body was found by two kayakers in the Lower Niagara River 10 days later.

Tom Scheira, who lives across the street from the Hedges' home, said two families totaling five or six people, all adults, arrived to stay at the Renaissance House on Friday and have since left.

One of the families was driving a vehicle with Rhode Island license plates, Scheira said.

"These guys are really sneaky," he said.

Eva and Timothy Hedges are believed to have operated a camp for children of Polish descent from the home since around Christmas of last year until mid-August.

Because the Hedgeses were supplying guests food and beds as a commercial enterprise, public health regulations applied.

The Hedgeses came under fire from Magdalena's parents and their attorneys, who said the Hedgeses should have provided better supervision for the children, whose parents paid to leave them in their care.

The mother and son targeted families in New York City, Philadelphia and Connecticut through word of mouth, Pennysaver-type advertisements, fliers and letters to church groups.

Parents paid $500 for a two-week camp, which included trips to Lewiston, Canada, Beaver Island and Goat Island, as well as attractions including Maid of the Mist, Aquarium of Niagara and Whirlpool Jet Boats.

A complaint was first filed with the city's Building Inspections Department in June 2004, saying renovations were taking place at the Hedgeses' home without the proper permit.

On July 18 of this year, city inspectors cited the Fourth Street property for three violations: performing construction work without a permit, having a backyard fence higher than 6 feet and lot coverage exceeding 30 percent of the total lot size.

On Aug. 15, the city sent a certified letter ordering operations related to "transient occupancy" at the property to cease.

The city gave Eva Hedges until Sept. 30 to fix the violations and she had not as of an inspection on Oct. 1, according to city inspection records.

No court date for Hedges has been scheduled. A call to the city's corporation counsel office about the code violations was not returned.

George V.C. Muscato, the Hedgeses' Lockport attorney, said an official with the inspections department told him last week the city would be moving forward with charges.

Muscato, who said he was not in a position to comment on the neighbor's allegations, added that Eva Hedges, who is of Eastern European decent, "has friends and acquaintances from all over the world."

He also said he doesn't believe the situation warrants criminal charges.

"This was a terrible tragic accident," he said, "but I do not believe that my clients have committed any crime."

Gus M. Farinella, attorney for Magdalena's parents, Mariusz and Kathrzyna, called the city's actions "too little, too late," but praised the district attorney.

"I have full, unequivocal confidence in Michael Violante and his team that they will do what is necessary and what is just," Farinella said.

The girl's parents met with officials in the DA's office last month.

Farinella said he's also in the process of beginning to develop "Magdalena's Law," a measure which he said would help protect children when they are in the care of anyone other than their parents.


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