Lewiston Supervisor Steven Reiter acknowledges he authorized using town equipment and personnel at the Seneca Nation’s Hickory Stick Golf Course on Creek Road.
State investigators and FBI agents are trying to get answers regarding Reiter’s authorization to use taxpayer-funded services on private property and other questionable actions involving Reiter’s conduct as supervisor and before that as town highway superintendent.
Reiter confirmed that an assistant state attorney general and an FBI agent interviewed him Thursday afternoon at his town office. The Buffalo News also learned that agents and investigators conducted about two dozen other interviews with town officials and employees throughout the afternoon and into the evening.
“I think most of it came out fairly well, and they are going to investigate,” Reiter said Friday of the investigators’ interview with him, “and I think we may have made some mistakes here but for most part it will come out well.”
Town workers have stated that Reiter provided town services to the Seneca golf course, which he says is true, adding that he was acting as a good neighbor and had wanted to be helpful.
The first instance occurred a few years ago, when the golf course opened and a trailer containing two new lawn mowers rolled into a golf course pond.
“The trailer slipped off the hitch and into water 25 to 30 feet deep,” Reiter said.
A golf course official contacted him when he was still the highway superintendent, Reiter said, and asked if he knew of any SCUBA divers who could attach a cable to the sunken trailer.
“I remembered one of my guys who happened to be right in the DPW yard at the time and had just passed SCUBA certification,” Reiter said of sending the Department of Public Works employee over to dive into the pond and hook up a tow cable. “I thought that was the neighborly thing to do. If they are going hang me over that, I’ll take the heat.”
A second instance of assisting at Hickory Stick occurred during the first winter at the course when Reiter was asked to apply salt on the driveway leading to the course clubhouse, he said.
“It was only done a couple times, and I thought it was the neighborly thing to do,” Reiter said.
When The News asked Reiter if he accepted free passes to the golf course, he responded:
“I play two or three times a year. I’ve played there, and I am not going to lie. I have been comped and I have paid to play there. But I don’t even own a set of clubs,” Reiter said. “I have never received a dime from them.”
The Seneca Nation is a town taxpayer and recently paid $26,257 in town and county property taxes on the golf course.
When The News asked him that question, he would not directly comment, but he said, “I have never billed the town for mileage.”
A state comptroller’s audit in 2011 chastised the town for not having adequate control over town fuel pumps.
“The town also failed to ensure that its fuel supplies were adequately safeguarded against the risk of loss or misuse,” the audit stated.
Doug Janese, town highway superintendent, said an FBI agent and a certified fraud examiner showed up at his office at the town garage on Swan Road Thursday afternoon seeking information on who controlled the town’s fuel pumps and requesting information on “an individual.”
“They asked if I was in charge of the fuel supply and I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ Then they began to ask questions about an individual, and I said I felt I had an obligation as an elected town official to speak to the town attorney. They told me, ‘Mr. Janese, neither you nor any of your highway employees are the focus of our investigation,’ ” Janese said, adding that he still wanted to speak with town attorney Mark Davis.
At that point, Janese said, the investigators provided their business cards and “graciously” ended the interview, saying they would contact him in the future.
“One of the gentleman told me they were conducting over 20 interviews simultaneously in the town,” Janese said, adding that the town attorney later told him he would handle contact with the investigators.
Another town official who requested anonymity said two FBI agents asked a range of questions that included information about:
• Improper use of a town vehicle.
• Missing town picnic tables.
• Use of town equipment on private property.
• Removal of scrap iron from Joseph Davis State Park, which the town operates.
Reiter said he qualifies for a town vehicle because he is a “hands-on supervisor and it has been approved by the Town Board.”
When asked if he used the truck for transportation to his part-time job as a security guard in the Town of Niagara, he said that on occasions when he has left a meeting on town business, he has driven to the second job, if it was in the vicinity.
Maureen Dempsey, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Buffalo Office, said agents were working with the state Attorney General’s Office in Lewiston Thursday “conducting routine interviews in relation to an ongoing matter.”
A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s office declined to comment.
In the second year of his second two-year term as town supervisor, Reiter, a Republican, said he is seeking re-election “at this point.” He also said he has nothing to hide regarding the questions that authorities are asking and that was why he spoke openly to The News about them.
Dennis J. Brochey, Reiter’s Democratic opponent in the fall election, said he was saddened to hear of the investigation.
“If any of this is true, it is very disappointing to hear of any public official resorting to that. It’s just not right. There have been rumors going on for a while,” said Brochey, who serves as a Village of Lewiston trustee.
Fred Newlin, a former town supervisor who lost re-election to Reiter, expressed caution, noting that this is only an investigation and nothing has been substantiated.
“As an elected official, you have to always act with the utmost prudence and integrity. You owe that to the people you serve. If you do anything wrong, it not only damages your own reputation, but also the place you call home, and nothing is worth that,” Newlin said.