NIAGARA FALLS – The future of the Niagara Falls Music and Art Festival is cloudy as the event’s main organizer faces charges of using money raised for the event to pay personal expenses.
The festival’s three-day run on Old Falls Street – which is supposed to start June 20 – is in trouble now that executive director Richard A. Crogan has been charged with diverting festival sponsorship money for his own bills.
Crogan, 56, of Fourth Street, pleaded not guilty in City Court on Friday following a four-month investigation.
Crogan was charged with three felonies: third- and fourth-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud. Crogan, who appeared with attorney Michael S. Deal, was released on his own recognizance and a return court date was set for Aug. 8.
Police Capt. William S. Thomson, chief of detectives, said the charges allege that on Jan. 14, 2014, Crogan stole $15,000 from Renewal by Anderson Replacement Window Company. Crogan had allegedly taken the money for sponsorship of the festival, but failed to spend the funds on the festival and instead used the funds for his own expenses.
Whether the festival is held later this month depends on a number of issues, said Mayor Paul A. Dyster.
A city permit to use the right of way for the festival was already issued, the mayor said. He declined to comment when asked if the city is considering whether to rescind the permit.
The mayor called the festival “an asset to the city and the region,” adding that the city would like it to continue.
Dyster also tried to limit suspicion the public might have. “None of the recent controversy should in any way reflect negatively on the many volunteers, performers, artists, craftsmen, or vendors that had been associated with the festival in the past or that are planning or hoping to participate in the festival this year,” Dyster said. “Nor is there any allegation of wrongdoing on the part of the board of directors of the organization.”
Thomson, the chief of detectives, said Crogan was charged with scheme to defraud because other smaller amounts from at least 10 other sponsors were diverted into his account and used for his own expenses.
The case came about through a joint investigation between city police and the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. It was prompted by a tip from a whistle-blower, Thomson said.
Thomson said Crogan’s only job was his role as festival director and that the funds were being used for his personal living expenses.
Plans for the festival this year called for the addition of a third day. It would be the second straight year the event was held on Old Falls Street, after being previously held on Main Street.
A spokesperson for Global Spectrum, the firm contracted by the city and state to manage Old Falls Street, said the organization remains ready to assist in putting on the event, if it is held.