Highly placed Albany sources told the Niagara Falls Reporter this week that county Sheriff Tom Beilein's appointment as chairman of the state Commission of Corrections was effectively killed when Beilein's name turned up in a federal investigation into prostitution in Niagara County.
"As you might expect, Gov. Paterson is very sensitive to anything involving prostitution at this point," one source confided.
That's because Paterson's predecessor, former governor Eliot Spitzer, was forced to resign when it was revealed he had phoned a high-priced Manhattan call girl from Shorty's bar on Pine Avenue here and arranged to meet her for sex in Washington, D.C. Spitzer has not yet been charged with any crime.
Last week, an article in the Buffalo News called into question Beilein's relationship with Alan and Lisa Tsui, owners of three Niagara County whorehouses as well as one in Erie County. A framed portrait of Beilein, smiling broadly and arm in arm with the couple, was prominently displayed in the reception room of the brothel they operated in the town of Wheatfield, federal authorities said.
Beilein told the News that he was introduced to the couple by Niagara County Coroner Jimmy Joyce, who introduced them as legitimate business people interested in investing money in Niagara County. He allowed his picture to be taken at some political event where he met them briefly, he said.
His statement to the News is directly at odds with statements made to federal investigators by Joyce, who said Beilein had a relationship, and his picture taken, with Alan and Lisa Tsui prior to Joyce's first meeting with them.
Joining Beilein in blaming Joyce is former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello, who himself was the subject of an ongoing federal probe for three of the four years he was in office here in connection with his acceptance of a $40,000 under-the-table "loan" from downtown developer Joe Anderson, who later was gifted with a number of sweetheart city contracts.
While Beilein only had his picture taken with the brothel owners, Anello actually oversaw a $10,000 "facade grant" designed to make the whorehouse they ran on Third Street in Niagara Falls more attractive to passers-by. Additionally, he lobbied hard for a zoning interpretation that would allow for a "massage parlor" to be opened on Third Street, a move that was bitterly opposed by block clubs and other business owners there.
A 77-page federal criminal complaint that resulted in the indictment of Alan and Lisa Tsui last December is littered with references to "the judge," "the police captain" and "the sheriff," though the identities of the individuals being referred to have not been made public thus far.
References to "the sheriff" found in wiretap recordings involve him making recommendations on how to avoid problems with law enforcement. During one call, Lisa Tsui said that he warned against allowing the prostitutes to openly solicit tips, since undercover police officers would not offer additional money. In another, she said that he advised against advertising in local newspapers, which he said would attract attention from investigators.
Last week, Beilein loudly protested any inference of any involvement in the operation to News reporters.
"I don't go to any massage parlors," Beilein sputtered. "I hope they weren't trying to make it look like I'm their customer and it's a legitimate business."
At some point prior to December's FBI raid on the whorehouse, he ordered an on-duty deputy, Ron Dworzanski, to go to the Wheatfield location and take his photo down, he told the News.
Beilein's actions raise some interesting questions. If, as he now maintains, he truly believed that the "relaxation spas" Alan and Lisa Tsui were operating were legitimate businesses, why would he send an armed deputy to remove his photo?
It is common practice for politicians to have their photos taken with area business people, and the walls of many stores, dry cleaners, barber shops and professional offices proudly display framed photos of the proprietors shaking hands with this or that politician.
Of course, very few of those photos end up on the walls of whorehouses, but this is Niagara County, after all.
Finally, did Deputy Dworzanski, who was on county time, have any authority whatsoever to enter what was then a place of business and order the proprietors to redecorate the interior of the premises? Did Beilein have authority to issue such an order? An exhaustive review of the United States Constitution by the Reporter's crack legal team has failed to come up with any evidence that such actions were in any way legal.
Ostensibly, Jimmy Joyce is a $22,000-a-year, part-time elected official who has served as coroner here for the past three decades. It is simply absurd to think that he could somehow coerce the county sheriff or the mayor of Niagara Falls into doing anything at all.
He is very active in Democratic politics on the county level, and both Beilein and Anello now publicly blame him for "vouching" for Alan and Lisa Tsui. Blaming Joyce, in fact, may be the only defense they have in the case.
But Joyce himself has told federal investigators that Beilein knew the couple before he did. In any event, neither the sheriff nor the former mayor should have been surprised.
n 2006, Joyce was a partner with convicted felon, disbarred attorney and former Niagara Falls city councilman Michael Gawel in a company known as J & M Enterprises. The company was originally formed to operate concessions along the city's East Mall, then a pedestrian walkway, on behalf of downtown developer Joe Anderson.
It was Gawel who, in 2003, authorized two checks totaling $40,000 from a company controlled by Anderson to then-councilman Anello, who was running for mayor. Those were the payments at the center of the U.S. Justice Department's corruption investigation at Niagara Falls City Hall.
Anderson cut his ties to Gawel in 2005 following an altercation with another employee, and he and Joyce next turned up helping to promote the string of whorehouses now under investigation.
Neither Beilein nor Anello should express any surprise that the "relaxation spas" turned out to be what they were. On Jan. 17, 2006, before they had even opened, the lead story in the Reporter was headlined "Gawel pimping massage parlor in Third Street entertainment district."
The sheriff and the former mayor can claim what they'd like to about Joyce but, clearly, his very public association with Gawel should have given them pause. At the time, Gawel had been arrested no fewer than six times on charges ranging from money-laundering, tax evasion and conspiracy to intimidating a witness, drunk driving, endangering the welfare of a child and resisting arrest.
It should be noted that the Buffalo News then was completely ignoring Niagara County's burgeoning prostitution problem, while the Niagara Gazette -- its newsroom located within spitting distance of the Tsui's Third Street whorehouse -- publicly welcomed the couple on its pages as a shining example of the state's success in efforts to renovate the district.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS
After Joyce's alleged involvement in the case became known, the stumbling, bumbling Republican majority in the county Legislature called for an investigation of its own.
"We think we owe it to the voters of Niagara County to look into this," said Legislator Paul Wojtaszek, brother of Niagara County Republican Committee Chairman Henry Wojtaszek. "All public officials are to conduct themselves professionally, legally and ethically."
That he was able to get those words out without choking or breaking down in a fit of laughter is a credit to Wojtaszek's abilities as a public speaker. The crooked, corrupt cesspool that is county government here has resulted in a beleaguered populace who pay the highest taxes in the nation.
Professional clowns like County Manager Greg Lewis, political bagmen like Industrial Development Agency Chairman Mickey Sloma and stuttering yes-men like Economic Development Commissioner Sam Ferraro base their decisions on personal interest alone, and to investigate Joyce -- particularly when he is already under investigation by the FBI -- is nothing but a silly distraction.
This is the same crew that conspires to have a local television host critical of their policies fired, the same one that granted an obscene tax break to a multi-national corporation that immediately resulted in a tax increase for everyone else, and appointed to high office a corrupt union thug who was later indicted for racketeering and extortion.
Seemingly, the only question that remains is, who will investigate the county Legislature?
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||April 8 2008|