Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards and at least 20 more town workers have been called to testify before a grand jury that is investigating allegations of corruption in town government, The Buffalo News learned Wednesday.
The workers – including several high-ranking town officials – recently received subpoenas to appear before a Niagara County grand jury, in connection with a lengthy probe that is being conducted by the Public Integrity section of the New York State Attorney General’s office and the Buffalo FBI Office.
Richards, the town’s five-term supervisor, is among those who will be required to testify, three sources close to the investigation told The News. Town Police Chief H. James Suitor confirmed that he, too, has been subpoenaed.
Richards, 60, a feisty and outspoken figure who has been so popular with town voters that he faced no opposition in his last election, has been the target of an investigation for at least 18 months, The News reported Aug. 21. So far, no charges have been filed against Richards or anyone else.
The investigation has focused on allegations that Richards has used his government position, and possibly town workers and equipment, to help his business, Richards Motor Service in Niagara, sources familiar with the probe told The News.
Richards vehemently denies any wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Rodney O. Personius.
“Mr. Richards did receive a subpoena. Beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on what appears to be a pending grand jury investigation,” Personius said Wednesday.
The town has about 100 workers, including about 60 full-timers and about 40 part-timers. That means more than one-fifth of the town’s workforce has been called before the grand jury, which is expected to hear testimony from the workers within the next few weeks.
Suitor confirmed that he has received a grand jury subpoena, but authorities told The News that Suitor is not a target of the probe.
“I am in receipt of a subpoena, but the subpoena does not list a defendant. It lists ‘John Doe’ as the subject of the investigation,” Suitor said. “I’ve never seen a subpoena listing John Doe as the target before.”
Suitor said he could not discuss what he thinks he might be asked to testify about.
According to town officials, FBI agents have visited town offices at least four times in the past 18 months, questioning workers and picking up town records on at least one occasion.
Richards has the strong backing of at least one highly visible public official in Niagara County, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.
Officials of the State Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Wednesday on the investigation. Buffalo FBI spokeswoman Maureen Dempsey confirmed that FBI agents are assisting state attorneys on an investigation of town operations, but she said she could not provide further details.