NIAGARA FALLS - City Councilman Samuel F. Fruscione is coming under fire for actions related to a business he operates downtown, which includes selling T-shirts depicting mob figures.
Fruscione operates a gift shop called Falls Street Emporium on Old Falls Street, across from Niagara Falls State Park, with his brother David Fruscione and cousin Jerry Genova.
Pictures of notorious mafia boss Stefano Magaddino, Magaddino family members and other mobsters adorn at least three shirts for sale in the store, according to photographs taken inside the store and sent to The Buffalo News. The City of Niagara Falls has a history of ties to organized crime, including the Magaddino family.
One of the shirts displays the term “amico nostro,” a mob idiom meaning “a friend of ours.”
Another depicts mobster Vito “Don Vito” Genovese.
There is also a framed drawing of some of the Magaddino brothers on display.
The products glorify an image from the city’s past that shouldn’t be revived, said Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti.
“I, as an Italian woman, am very offended,” said Grandinetti.
But Fruscione disagrees, characterizing the situation as one stoked by his political opponents.
Fruscione said his store’s displays and merchandise related to the mob is really a tribute to George Karalus, a retired state trooper who worked to help bring down organized crime in the Falls. Fruscione said he has gotten to know Karalus, whom he called a hero whose work is not well known.
“We’re glorifying the police officer,” Fruscione said.
Much of the collection of mob-related items was given to Fruscione and his business partners by Karalus, Fruscione said.
Fruscione asserted that his store only had one shirt depicting mob figures, and that the rest of what he sells accounts for 75 percent of the store’s space and 90 percent of its sales.
Grandinetti and Fruscione are among four candidates who will compete in a September Democratic primary for three spots on the ballot for City Council seats in November.
Next-door to Falls Street Emporium, which Fruscione said opened at the end of June, is a recently opened pizzeria called Mario’s Pizza.
The business, owned by Mario DeMita Jr., received a $15,000 grant from NFC Development Corp., the city’s lending arm, on June 27.
Fruscione’s brother-in-law, Dan Vecchies, acted as an agent for DeMita to handle the paperwork with the city, according to Grandinetti. Fruscione denied that an assertion, saying Vecchies had “absolutely nothing” to do with the city grant. Fruscione said he personally dealt with DeMita a couple times.
Vecchies, who works as a real estate broker, may have handled a loan for DeMita, Fruscione said.
Fruscione did not recuse himself from the vote, even though it could be seen that his business may benefit from improvements at a neighboring business benefitting from the use of public dollars.
Fruscione also did not disclose Vecchies’ role prior to the vote, Grandinetti said.
“It was a little disconcerting to be honest with you,” Grandinetti said. “He should have disclosed to all of us that it was, in fact, his brother-in-law that brokered the deal.”
Fruscione said Vecchies’ name also appeared on none of the paperwork filed with the city. Had his name appeared, Fruscione said, he would have had to abstain by law.
“There’s nothing to abstain about,” Fruscione said.
DeMita did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Around 2008, the Frusciones and Genova operated a production company from a storefront on 19th Street called Little Italy Niagara, inside of which there was space dedicated to the display of mob memorabilia.
The items included hats and shoes worn by the Magaddino family, as well as photographs, which were hung on the wall of the building, said to be the site used in the Magaddino family’s bookmaking operations. The place was a stop on a tour of mob-related sites in the Falls at the time.
The biggest sellers at Falls Street Emporium at present are flipflops, bubble guns, candy, glow sticks and laser toys, Fruscione said.
Fruscione also said he appreciates the media questions and coverage, saying the attention will help his sales more than any advertising could.