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After 34 years of fighting crime, a federal prosecutor retires; Cast of personalities marks Wydysh career

When Charles B. Wydysh talks about his life prosecuting mobsters, corrupt public officials and murderers, it's the characters and personalities, the good and the bad, that stand out three decades later.

Ask him about his courtroom adversaries, and Wydysh will regale you with tales of going toe-to-toe with the late Harold J. Boreanaz, the defense attorney he admired most.

Talk with him about the organized-crime members he sent to prison, and the federal prosecutor -- he retired last week after 34 years on the job -- will fill your ears with stories about Leonard F. Falzone, the mob leader many thought untouchable.

And finally, ask Wydysh about the truly memorable cases, and he will no doubt mention Robert E. Delano, the former city parks commissioner and the target of one of the biggest public corruption cases of the last 50 years.

"This has got to be one of the best jobs in the world," Wydysh, 64, said of his time as an assistant U.S. attorney. "It's not like going to work and doing the same thing every day."

There was never anything routine about Charlie Wydysh's life as a prosecutor.

Fresh out of law school at the University at Buffalo, the Canisius High and Niagara University graduate was recruited by the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

A short time later, the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force, the brainchild of then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, came calling. It was 1978, and the department was knee-deep in mob prosecutions, and Wydysh was someone who could jump in feet first.

What followed was a series of high-profile mob prosecutions that quickly earned him a reputation as an aggressive but fair prosecutor.

Perhaps the most notable of those was the government's dismantling of Laborers Local 210, a Buffalo-based construction union.

"Local 210 was basically controlled by the mob," Wydysh said.

The government, with Wydysh at the helm, set out to clean up 210 and did so by removing a number of union members with alleged ties to organized crime in Buffalo. The group included Falzone, described by investigators as an enforcer and the third-ranking leader of the local mob.

Falzone, once thought to be made of Teflon when it came to government prosecutions, was eventually convicted of racketeering and sent to federal prison.

"He was alleged at the time to have been the highest-ranking member of the Mafia to have been convicted," Wydysh said last week.

While the Falzone trial may have been Wydysh's most satisfying case, it was Anthony F. Leonardo Jr. whom the retired prosecutor remembers as the worst of the worst.

Leonardo, a prominent attorney, got tangled up in an $11 million armored car robbery outside Rochester. He eventually took a plea deal in which he admitted distributing cocaine, laundering money and orchestrating a murder.

Wydysh said Leonardo, one of the few defendants he considered amoral, set up an innocent man to be killed even though the man had no role in the armed robbery or the cover-up.

"He was no good," Wydysh said of Leonardo. "Prosecuting him was very satisfying."

Going after Delano may not have been as satisfying, but it was Wydysh's time in the spotlight. "Every day, there was the press," Wydysh said of the media throng that covered the trial.

Delano, who was close to then-Mayor James D. Griffin, was accused of running the Parks Department like a criminal enterprise.

When a jury found him guilty, he became the first local public official convicted of racketeering and was sentenced to prison for more than four years. An appeals court later lifted the racketeering charges, and Delano's prison term was reduced.

Like so many other cases, what Wydysh remembers most about the Delano trial is the man he went up against -- Boreanaz, a legend in the criminal defense community. Boreanaz died of cancer shortly after the trial ended.

"He was, for my money, the best lawyer I've ever seen," Wydysh said.

For Wydysh, it's people such as Boreanaz who have made his three-plus decades as a federal prosecutor a ride well worth taking.

"There's nothing routine about the job," Wydysh said. "And it's been exciting -- very exciting."