NIAGARA FALLS – Federal agents based in Buffalo know the path to Niagara Falls well – over the years, they’ve made City Hall a favorite target of corruption investigations.
The FBI was back at it again Monday, as agents came to the City Council office to ask about a city worker with ties to Council Chairman Sam F. Fruscione.
Sources said the agents were seeking information about Randal S. Ubriaco, whom Fruscione has advocated for several City Hall positions and who was first hired by a target of a previous federal probe.
The visit marks the FBI’s third known trip to City Hall since July 2009, when it conducted a probe of the city’s Inspections Department – where Ubriaco once worked – and its relationship with convicted felon John J. Gross Jr.
The bureau could not be reached to comment late Monday, but Mayor Paul A. Dyster said his administration would “assist in any way, as we have in the past and will continue to do in the future.”
City officials declined to discuss the nature of the agents’ visit, but sources said they visited the Council office, as well as the landlord licensing office, where Ubriaco worked until late last month.
Ubriaco was hired in April 2010 to keep records for the city’s landlord licensing program, which aims to crack down on absentee landlords. He was hired by a panel of city officials but did not have to pass a civil service exam, human resource officials said.
When the local civil service commission ruled that the position required the test, Ubriaco was “not reachable” during the interviews and was removed from the position, officials said.
Ubriaco made $22,000 in the position, records show, and he was also a candidate for the Niagara County Legislature last year. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Fruscione said his secretary notified him of the FBI visit while he was teaching his elementary school class, adding that he has not spoken with Ubriaco about the visit and offered no suggestions about what it might involve.
Fruscione said he was not contacted by the FBI and was not questioned in the probe.
Ubriaco has served on the city’s Tourism Advisory Board and Planning Board, whose members are appointed by the Council.
He also has appeared with Fruscione and Tourism Advisory Board Chairman Jerry Genova on the local television show “Little Italy TV,” which has featured tours of Italian restaurants on Pine Avenue and the history of the Mafia in Niagara Falls. In one episode, Fruscione refers to Ubriaco as “my man Randy,” and in another, he is the subject of an interview with Genova about the city’s bocce league.
Dyster and City Administrator Donna D. Owens said the federal agents did not visit their offices. The FBI visit could be the latest in a number of federal corruption probes to center on public officials in Niagara Falls.
Dyster, who campaigned in 2007 and last year on helping to root out corruption in the city, welcomed a probe in 2009 that centered on Gross’ dealings with members of the city’s Inspections Department.
FBI agents searched Gross’ Niagara Street plumbing garage, as well as City Hall, and Dyster placed Zoning Director Guy A. Bax, Chief Plumbing Inspector George A. Amendola and Chief Electrical Inspector Peter M. Butry on administrative leave after agents alleged that the three had corrupt relationships with Gross.
In one email intercepted by the FBI, Bax was quoted as calling Gross – a popular plumber and three-time felon – his “Godfather.”
While Gross was convicted of tax evasion and sent to his third stint in federal prison, none of the three city workers have been indicted.
Earlier this year, the FBI was said to be seeking records at City Hall about developer Frank R. Parlato Jr., and previous investigations have focused on former Mayor Vince Anello, who was jailed after a lengthy probe for filing false statements to an electrical workers union.