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Immigrant odyssey takes bleakest turn for Anello: prison ; Ex-Falls mayor's emotions run deep

When Vince Anello walked into Buffalo's federal courthouse Sept. 8, 1966, it was one of the proudest moments of his life. On that day, the 20-year-old Sicilian immigrant took the oath of U.S. citizenship.

Monday, Anello walked into the same courthouse, but this time, it was a moment of disgrace.

The former Niagara Falls mayor was sentenced to 13 months in federal prison for filing false statements with an electrical workers union. U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny also ordered Anello to repay $55,273 to the union, $10,000 of which Anello has already repaid.

Monday's sentencing came after years of controversy and federal investigations aimed at Anello, who left office at the end of 2007. Anello pleaded guilty in September to a felony charge of filing false documents with Local 237, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Because Anello was a retiree receiving a pension from the union, he was allowed to work only part time as an electrician. He acknowledged that he was working full time -- and collecting his pension -- while falsely telling the union that he was a part-time employee.

His voice choked with emotion, Anello told Skretny that he blames no one but himself for his wrongdoing, and he apologized for letting down people who had trusted him.

The former mayor, 64, told the judge that he has been humbled and embarrassed by his downfall. He said that it was especially difficult for him to be sentenced in the same building where he once proudly became a citizen.

"Here I was at the top of the mountain, but now I find myself at the bottom of the valley, looking up," Anello said.

In a letter to the judge, Anello said he broke the law and violated union rules because he was more than $40,000 in debt and needed full-time work, plus his pension, to make ends meet.

"Nobody gets a free ride," Skretny told him. "Frankly, the facts establish that you knew you were doing something wrong. You have to pay a price for that."

Under advisory sentencing guidelines, Skretny could have sent Anello to prison for anywhere from 10 to 16 months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie P. Grisanti asked that the sentence be within that range.

Defense attorneys Joel L. Daniels and Cheryl Meyers Buth asked Skretny for leniency. Daniels called Anello a hardworking "2 4/7 mayor" who succeeded after moving from Sicily to Niagara Falls with his family at age 10.

"He could not speak one word of English," Daniels said.

Earlier this year, Anello caught a major break when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling caused federal prosecutors to drop another charge against him that could have resulted in a much longer prison term.

In that case, he was accused of depriving Niagara Falls taxpayers of his "honest services" when he accepted $40,000 in loans from Joseph "Smokin' Joe" Anderson, a wealthy smoke shop owner who had contracts with the city.

In 2008, after a long investigation, prosecutors accused Anello of receiving the money with the intent of providing special favors to Anderson's business interests.

The federal government decided to drop that case earlier this year after the Supreme Court decision made it harder to prosecute cases involving alleged denial of honest services.

Although it has been dismissed, that case still hangs over Anello "like a cloud," Daniels said. The defense lawyer said Anello never gave Anderson any special favors in exchange for the loans.

"Vince has always said, 'I never had any side deal with Joe Anderson,' " Daniels said.

Although the charge against Anello was dropped, Anderson still faces an upcoming sentence because he pleaded guilty in 2008 to a felony charge of devising a scheme to deprive citizens of Anello's honest services. Anderson's attorneys are expected to seek probation for Anderson because of his extensive cooperation in the probe.

In 2004, Anello and other city officials struck a deal with Anderson, allowing him to sell souvenirs on a downtown pedestrian mall, but according to Daniels, that arrangement was good for the city and bad for Anderson.

Anello, who had been a union electrician for many years before entering the political world, was investigated by agents from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Labor Department.

According to a union attorney, Robert L. Boreanaz, Anello's actions hurt some younger union members because, when retired electricians work long hours, it takes job opportunities away from younger electricians trying to move up through the ranks.

Anello, wearing a gray business suit, was allowed to leave the courthouse with his attorneys after his sentencing. He will have to turn himself in at a federal prison at a date that has not yet been determined.

More than 40 people, including relatives, family friends, politicians and two priests, sent letters to Skretny, requesting leniency for Anello.

Among the letter-writers were Daniel S. Bristol, a former city administrator under Anello; former Corporation Counsel Damon A. DeCastro; former city development official Ralph F. Aversa; Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards; and Niagara County Legislator Richard F. Soluri.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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