Share this article

print logo

Buffalo’s deputy fire commissioner steps down

A veteran Buffalo Fire Department administrator who was criticized last year for allegedly using official powers to conduct unauthorized criminal background checks has stepped down and returned to duty as a firefighter.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Joseph J. Tomizzi resigned the key administrative post Tuesday for “personal reasons,” according to Fire Commissioner Garnell W. Whitfield.

Tomizzi’s attorney, Terrence M. Connors, said the job change stemmed not from any investigation under way, but rather from “reassessing” his career and a desire to pursue his private fire investigation business.

“Joe just suffered a real loss in the death of his father, with whom he was very close,” Connors said. “That has caused him to reassess his future and his life goals. So he has cut back on the city (job) and will concentrate on his private fire investigation business.

“‘Reassess’ is a good word,” he added.

Tomizzi, 50, has been a member of the fire department for 17 years and was promoted to the Fire Investigation Unit in 2004. He was named head of the unit in 2010 and deputy commissioner in 2011.

Whitfield said no decision has been made who will move into the deputy commissioner post, one of two in the department. He said applications will be requested shortly.

The fire commissioner said Tomizzi will be getting his new assignment shortly.

The Buffalo News reported in March 2014 that the Erie County District Attorney’s Office was investigating complaints that Tomizzi was illegally snooping on firefighters – and possibly others – with the unauthorized background checks.

Neither Tomizzi nor District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III would comment at the time.

Since then, however, several members of the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association – the union representing the city’s firefighters – were interviewed as part of a criminal investigation, according to President Thomas Barrett.

One of those members, Firefighter William T. Buyers, said previously that Tomizzi had launched an investigation of him almost six years ago. He said he had just been promoted to the department’s Arson Investigation Unit and that Tomizzi at the time was an arson investigator with authority to conduct such checks.

Buyers said in 2014 that he had never been arrested, had no criminal record, and claimed Tomizzi had no legitimate reason to run the check. Buyers then filed a complaint against Tomizzi with the city’s Human Resources Department.

On Wednesday, Buyers said he was questioned by the FBI about a year and a half ago and by the state Attorney General’s Office last spring.

“They asked me how often I saw Steve Casey down there (in the arson investigation office),” Buyers said, referring to the former deputy mayor who has also been under investigation by the FBI and attorney general in conjunction with a political action committee called the WNY Progressive Caucus.

“It was nothing specific, just how often I saw him in fire investigation,” Buyers said, adding that he was never asked about the political action committee.

Connors said Wednesday his client cooperated with the city probe at its inception, and will cooperate with any current investigation, too.

“I am unaware of any right now,” he said. “If there is any investigation out there, I’m sure he will cooperate like in the previous one.”

The News also reported last year that Erie County Central Police Services, headed by Commissioner John A. Glascott, had canceled Tomizzi’s access to its criminal records database, pending the results of the investigations.

Central Police Services conducted the audit of criminal background searches that Tomizzi made of its computerized database, but the agency said its review only retrieved searches involving prior arrests, Glascott said.

The Erie County Attorney’s Office also said it would not release the list to The News because it contained names that could be part of ongoing criminal investigations as well as cases that were dropped or dismissed and sealed.

The City of Buffalo, meanwhile, acknowledged in 2014 it was reviewing a complaint against Tomizzi.

Buyers, meanwhile, said the original check on him was initiated on Dec. 6, 2009, the night before he was to start a new post in the Arson Investigation Unit. At the time, Tomizzi was an arson investigator, and like others in the unit, was authorized to run background checks for law enforcement purposes.

Since the complaint was filed, at least a half-dozen firefighters, including union leaders, told The News they suspected for years, but were never able to confirm, that Tomizzi improperly ran background checks on firefighters and possibly on his neighbors.