It was shocking to learn that the media had been invited to witness the FBI's raid of Niagara Falls City Hall on Friday, July 17, 2009.
Invited by Mayor Paul Dyster.
The raid was part of law enforcement, a surprise appearance to seize computers and documents as part of an investigation into whether or not three building inspectors and contractor John Gross conspired to violate law and enrich themselves unjustly.
A 112-page supporting document, which the U.S. government prepared in order to get the search warrant, alleges that Gross might have been paying city Building Commissioner Guy Bax, electrical inspector Peter Butry, and George Amendola, head of the city's plumbing inspectors, to rubberstamp work the company had done as up to code, even if it wasn't.
There were also allegations that some officials were accepting fishing trips to Ohio and Florida.
For his role, Dyster had his secretary copy the search warrant and supporting documentation, called media outlets, then gleefully handed documents over to reporters when they arrived. Then tried to take credit.
The actual fact, however, was that Dyster was most likely scared awake at 6:30 that morning, when agents informed him they were coming to City Hall.
Dyster told the Buffalo News he had been told by authorities he is not a target of the investigation. "A welcome development from my perspective," he said.
After learning he wasn't in the crosshairs, Dyster moved to take credit.
He spun: "We're draining the swamp and when you drain the swamp, you get to see the alligators."
Notice the conjunction "we're," as if he and the FBI were doing it jointly.
He added, "I don't think we're done with weeding out corruption in the city of Niagara Falls.
"The way I would look at it, ya know, we're draining the swamp," Dyster said, using his favorite metaphor. "When you drain the swamp, it gets easier to see the alligators. Then as you drain the swamp, you find more alligators. You get rid of those alligators, you keep draining the swamp, you'll probably find some more alligators."
Alligators, though not indigenous to Niagara Falls, have been recently spotted here.
Dyster announced he was putting Bax, Butry and Amendola on paid administrative leave. The mayor stripped these men of their positions, based on, he said, the "serious nature of allegations contained" in search warrant papers.
"The commitment of this administration in rooting out corruption continues unabated," he said, condemning the men as corrupt without a trial.
Because I am not a friend of the mayor, nor do I give him donations overtly or through a slush fund set up as a charity, that means, in Niagara Falls, I get less service from City Hall than, let's say, James Glynn, Dyster's largest campaign contributor.
This year, when I wanted to open a ninth-floor observation area, after Dyster fought me for a year and a half to keep me from opening -- and it may be no coincidence that Glynn operates the competing state park observation deck -- I went to John Gross, who got a crane and hoisted up air conditioner/heater units 150 feet in the air and had 20 guys working to get the units operational. He got it done fast, right and at a fair price. Frankly, it wasn't enough.
Even though the ninth floor complied with code, I had to sue the city because Dyster wanted the ninth floor not to open. He could not contest the fact the building was in code compliance, so he resorted to a ruse.
Dyster said the original plan called for shrubs. Some of these were never planted. Dyster argued the site plan was invalid and consequently the building should be closed and 200 people making a living from the property should be laid off.
He ordered Bax to condemn the building.
"It's illegal to condemn a building over shrubs," Bax said.
Dyster then ordered the site plan rescinded. By a technicality of law, Bax could not issue permits for the ninth floor, thwarting my plans to improve the building.
I had to take the alligator to court.
Justice Richard Kloch, after hearing arguments, ruled Dyster was wrong and I could open the ninth floor.
Bax and I fought sometimes. That's no secret. I went over Bax's head to the New York state building code board of appeals and won the right to have variable heights of ceilings in my first-floor mall. But on life safety issues, Bax made sure everything complied with code: sprinklers, fire alarms, wiring and plumbing.
Amendola insisted on my putting fire wrap around low heat vents adjacent to fireproof material -- an expensive, unnecessary job, but in the code.
Once I heard the inspectors talking about some inspector somewhere who overlooked some life safety issue on some building, and later there was a fire and this inspector lost his pension over it. These were paranoid guys who dealt in life safety. They were honest. I could work with them.
From the start, however, I could never get out of Dyster's way.
It was like he was ordered by someone to do everything to make it hard for me. He ordered police to ticket buses that picked up tourists in my building. He ordered the Department of Public Works to place ugly bollards on my sidewalks.
Dyster is chairman of the Niagara Experience Center Committee and identified my property as its preferred location. If Albany/City Hall is going to seize my property through eminent domain, they will get it cheaper if I fail -- which will mean more for Glynn, who will almost certainly get the Experience Center management contract.
Glynn and Dyster had other reasons to dislike One Niagara.
I've met Dyster only once, when he came out for Glynn at a public meeting to get the people readied for a planned move of the entrance of the Niagara Falls State Park from where it is now to next to Glynn's new hotel.
Glynn gave Dyster $4,000 in campaign contributions. Glynn helped set up a secret fund to pay salaries of top officials at City Hall.
Dyster pretended he did not know the money was coming from Glynn to pay for Dyster's top aides at City Hall -- aides who have subsequently been very friendly to Glynn. Which isn't surprising either, since Glynn's son Chris sat in on the hiring process.
Alligators, as readers know, spend much of their lives effectively pretending they are a log near water. They wait motionless for hours until some prey comes by. Then they spring and eat it.
After Dyster became mayor, Glynn purchased the Comfort Inn and adjacent retail stores that front the West Pedestrian Mall. Dyster endorsed a plan in August 2008 to the City Council to buy out the West Mall lease under contract with businessman Lou Antonacci. Antonacci's lease gave him rights to sell food and souvenirs that compete with the Comfort Inn's shops and restaurants. At the time Dyster endorsed it, he did not reveal Glynn was buying the Comfort Inn and its stores.
Dyster, partnering with USA Niagara, funded the renovation of the West Pedestrian Mall. Using $7.9 million of public money, USA Niagara replaced the old walkway with new cobblestone and a "mist" fountain, and demolished the old Wintergarden -- all surrounding Glynn's new investment.
As Glynn and Dyster sat on the USA Niagara advisory board advising them how to spend the money.
Dyster claimed the project was meant to restore the walkway as it was when it was Old Falls Street -- a conglomeration of individually owned stores and attractions where many city residents earned money from tourism.
What he did not say is that Old Falls Street will now be a monopoly given to Glynn.
Dyster next pushed a bizarre zoning ordinance limiting the height of buildings downtown. Under Dyster's proposal, new construction close to the state park would be limited to 80 feet.
Coincidentally, the height of Glynn's Comfort Inn is 80 feet. It was shot down by the Council.
Dyster is now pushing a proposal to move the entrance of the state park to the front of Glynn's hotel and stores.
And Dyster is eager to assist Glynn to become tax free for his Comfort Inn property.
Ironic: Dyster's Economic Development Director Peter Kay (who Glynn helped hire) is fighting to stop a competing hotel from getting the same tax incentives.
We're supposed to focus on fishing trips, but the people of this town are speaking of alligators.
Dyster seems to have a few reptilian markings on him.
Just now he is pretending to be a log.