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May 06 - May 14, 2014

Niagara-Wheatfield School Board Flap Hits Just Prior to School Board Election

By Mike Hudson

May 06, 2014

Halleen's, one of the largest snowplow parts dealers in the area.

As if by coincidence, a scandal has erupted just two weeks prior to the May 20 Niagara Wheatfield School Board election there!

School Board Member Rich Halleen is running for re-election. Now School Board Member Richard Sirianni, and a retired couple, Bob and Helen Shimshack, who live and pay taxes in the district, are charging that Halleen is using the school district to make a profit for his father's business.

Before Halleen was first elected three years ago, the school district bought snow plow parts from Halleen Motors, a Town of Niagara Western Snow Plow parts dealership owned by his father, and one of the few places in Niagara County that deals extensively in a wide variety of snow plow parts.

The relationship with the school district ended when Rich Halleen was elected, since it appeared to be, if it was not in fact, a conflict of interest.

The school district began purchasing its snow plow parts from Kendzia Tire and Service on Niagara Falls Blvd.

One day last fall, a groundskeeper from the school district, Tom Skirlin, assigned to go to Kendzia to pick up snowplow parts, found stickers from Halleen's affixed to them.

He told Sirianni, who began looking into the matter.

Sirianni got the records for all snow plow parts purchased from Kindzia since Halleen was elected.

Sirianni then brought it up a public board meeting. He said he called another snowplow parts dealership and says he discovered that the district was paying between 30 percent to 100 percent more for the parts than they could have been bought for elsewhere.

"I can't prove that anyone is being paid under the table," Sirianni said at the time.

Shortly after the meeting, Ron Halleen, owner of Halleen Motors and Rich Halleen's father and employer, retained Niagara Falls attorney Johnny Destino to file a notice of claim against the School District for defamation of character.

When contacted by the Reporter, Destino confirmed the notice of claim naming the Niagara Wheatfield School District and added, "Ron Halleen will not be commenting about his notice of claim at this time."

Rich Halleen told the Reporter his father's company sells snowplow parts to anyone who wants them and if they mark them up, that is not their business.

Rich hallen says, after they sell snow plow parts, what somebody does with them is not his business
Rich sirianni says,something is fishy.

He acknowledged his father's company has sold snow plow parts to Kindzia. He said the total sales of these parts do not add up to $600 in profits for his father's company, a company that has been in business for decades.

Sirianni said reprisals against him began soon after he leveled his charges.

"I made a decision to go public with this, and Halleen filed a notice of claim," he said.

Sirianni retained attorney Robert Restaino to represent him. Reached last week, Restaino declined comment.

School Board President Steve Sabo was quick to jump to Halleen's defense in a post on his Facebook page.

".... Over the past three years the district spent approximately $9,000 (average of $3000 a year), on these repairs," Sabo wrote. "Only a fraction of those dealt with plow repairs. The board member called Kendzia's and asked if they do plow repairs there. He reported to the board that he was informed they didn't do that type of repair there.

"(A) board member is trying to say that Rich Halleen's parents' business, Halleen Motors, is trying get school business by having the head of buildings and grounds take school vehicles to (Kendzia's) so that Halleen can sell them the plow parts (Halleen's is the Western Plow Dealer for Niagara County and is the distributor of Western Plow parts for the area) at a mark up and make money off the school district… The school board member wants this investigated since he feels that the head of buildings and grounds and Rich Halleen are consorting to run up costs for the district."

Sabo then charged that Sirianni had his own conflict of interest.

"Here is the actuality: That board member's wife was laid off, and he blamed Rich Halleen for recommending it… He has also blamed Halleen for him not being elected to the Town of Niagara Board in November," Sabo wrote. "Since then, he has done whatever he can to attack Halleen…. This latest item, the plow part investigation he wants, is over about $1000 a year in repairs that our people could not do."

Bob Shimshack made no bones about his desire to see Halleen defeated in the upcoming election.

"I've got half a liquor case full of documents showing how they waste the taxpayer's money," Shimshack said. "A school board member should not be doing business with the school district. They were going through the back door on this. Kindzia doesn't even deal with snow plow parts, but they're buying them from Halleen's just to sell to the school district. They're twisting this thing all around."

A call to Kendzia Auto and Service was answered by a employee named Sandy.

Asked whether Kendzia sold snowplow parts and made repairs on snowplows, she said, "yes, we do."

Asked whether she had personally seen the company do repair work on snowplows, she answered she had and that her company has done so for several years.

"For Halleen to do something like this over nickels and pennies, I don't believe it." said George Satarian of Satarian Motors, when apprised about the issue. "If somebody's going to do something like that, are they going to do it for $3000? I've known Halleen for 27 years. They are a prosperous business. They always keep their word. Their price is their price. Everyone knows that. It's hard to believe they would do this over nickels and dimes. This sounds like a political ploy because Rich Halleen is running for reelection," Satarian said.

Satarian added that Halleen is the exclusive Western Plow dealer for the region adding that if Kendzia or anybody else needed these parts for a repair, they would get them from Halleen, as the authorized dealer.

Meantime, an attorney for the school district is quietly investigating the matter and have interviewed several employees who are said to have knowledge of the events, the Reporter has learned.





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