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Embattled Faso fired as Niagara SPCA chief; Board move follows furor, scathing report on shelter

The leaders of the SPCA of Niagara hired John A. Faso as executive director in April 2010 after interviewing a series of "remarkable" applicants.

"We were really impressed with the quality, but John stood out," board President Bruno A. "Brandy" Scrufari III said at the time. "We were confident he's here to stay for quite some time."

Those high hopes came crashing down Monday as the board voted to fire its embattled executive director after a month of criticism and a scathing report outlining a dysfunctional culture and unnecessary and cruel euthanasia practices.

"This is a quick, decisive, positive reaction to go forward," said Paul J. Cambria Jr., the defense attorney advising the board. "They're well on their way to fixing it."

Faso, meanwhile, spoke publicly for the first time, blasting the board that hired him while contending he was a competent manager and not responsible for the euthanasia practices.

"They have not been there for me on many levels, and they have not been there for the shelter," Faso said of the board. "I specifically told them when I was interviewed, 'I don't have that [animal] background,' and they said, 'You don't have to.' "

Rather, Faso said, he was hired to increase donations while making pet adoption more affordable for Niagara County families.

"The expectation wasn't that I handle medical care," he said. "I was hired for finances, and from that regard, I think I did my job."

SPCA Serving Erie County Executive Director Barbara S. Carr, who completed the scathing report highlighting poor record-keeping and mismanagement, wrote in the document that donations increased by 159 percent during Faso's tenure. Faso said that money was used to lessen the costs of adoption.

He acknowledged, though, that he ultimately should have known about the number and nature of the animal killings. Faso believed that 47 dogs had been killed during a four-month period last year, when 232 had been put down, the report stated, and some of the animals were killed in an excruciating fashion involving an injection into the heart.

"Should I [have known]? Yeah, I certainly should have," Faso told The Buffalo News. "But it's not like I was a vet tech. I was just a guy managing the shelter. That's what their responsibility was.

"I want to apologize to the people of the county for losing their trust. To do over again, I certainly would not have trusted the vet and veterinary technician."

Faso, 44, had a quick fall from grace.

A Grand Island resident, the 44-year-old father is the son of Town of Niagara Justice James J. Faso and the brother of prominent Niagara Falls defense attorney James J. Faso Jr.

A graduate of Niagara University, Faso previously served as general manager of Conference Center Niagara Falls and spent nine years as director of events for the Buffalo Sabres and what was then HSBC Arena.

The board thought so much of Faso that it decided to give him a pay raise -- he was hired at $70,000, or nearly $13,000 more than predecessor Albert J. Chille, who resigned in 2009 after allegations of mismanagement and animal neglect.

"My strong points are managing people and facilities, marketing and public relations," Faso told The News after his hiring.

Protesters have targeted him as the face of everything that's wrong with the SPCA of Niagara. Some chanted "Faso's got blood on his hands" during a protest last month outside the shelter.

Some volunteers called Faso "rude, short with people, uncaring about animals, unwilling to take suggestions [and] unable to understand the mission of animal welfare" in the report, which also stated that he "lacked in the most basic understanding of animal care as it relates to euthanasia."

But a vocal group of volunteers tell a different story, crediting Faso with increasing donations to the shelter and expanding its volunteer program from eight to 80 members.

"Current volunteers say things like, 'He's always there for us, never refuses veterinary care for an animal, runs our volunteer meetings, these charges are untrue, his heart is in the right place,' and frequently, 'If John leaves, I will, too,' " according to Friday's report.

Several board members also told Carr that if Faso were to be removed, it should be because of management issues and not because he didn't care about the shelter's animals.

"It seems impossible that the two groups are talking about the same person," Carr said in the report.

Faso said the different accounts can be explained by board members who disliked him and wanted his ouster. He said his relationship with Scrufari and Vice President Christopher J. Carlin deteriorated after he refused to hire their friend.

Kathy Paradowski, the former board member who provided staffers' allegations to reporters, was bitter because she wanted his job, Faso said. Paradowski has denied the accusation.

"They were going to do anything they could to get me out of this job," Faso said. "There's not a board member, save for one or two, who cares about the animals at that shelter. They care about patronage jobs."

Faso also said board members set him up for failure by barring him from hiring a full-time veterinary technician in December.

Carr's report said that Faso "never bothered" to learn the shelter's computer software and that the organization lost track of 245 animals. Faso said he was busy fundraising, cutting grass, plowing snow and doing other activities the operation's small budget and his lack of hiring power mandated.

He acknowledged that most SPCAs do not perform both animal-control and adoption roles but said the shelter depended on the money paid by Niagara County communities for the animal control.

Cambria said that there likely will be a re-election of board members but urged that the members not resign en masse before an interim executive director is appointed.

"There's going to be an election, no matter what, but it may be there are board members who will step down before the election," he said.

Cambria declined to say whether the board's vote to terminate Faso was unanimous. The decision has left Faso, after weeks as a target, looking to repair his reputation.

"It's been hell," he said. "I don't know how many people get their face on a poster being called a murderer. I had to reroute my children's school bus for their safety. I guess I've got to move on to next chapter of my life."