Ex-Niagara Falls Mayor Charged with Embezzling Electrical Workers Benefits

IBEW logo Vince Anello originally was an electrician. And he still is. But it’s his relationship with a local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) before, during and after his tenure as mayor of Niagara Falls, N.Y. that explains his troubles. Anello was charged in Buffalo federal court on Monday, June 7, with embezzling from the Niagara Falls-based IBEW Local 237 and filing false financial documents on behalf of the union. The allegations are in addition to a federal indictment in 2008 stating that shortly before taking office he’d taken a $40,000 bribe from a prominent area contractor in return for a grant of vending rights on city-owned property. He’s pleaded not guilty in both cases. 

Vincent Anello was Niagara Falls mayor during January 2004-December 2007. His problems have stemmed from his own parallel career as an electrical contractor and long-term membership in Local 237. Federal prosecutors allege Anello, now 64, shortly before assuming office illegally had accepted three checks totaling $40,000 from a prominent businessman, Joseph M. “Smokin’ Joe” Anderson, in the form of an interest-free loan to his business, Anello Electrical Construction Co. In March 2004 Anello, now mayor, recommended that the City Council approve a no-bid lease with a company controlled by Anderson to operate concessions on the East Pedestrian Mall downtown. Anello was indicted in 2008 for depriving citizens of honest services from a government official, conspiracy to affect commerce by extortion, and wrongful receipt of a payment by a public official.

That case has yet to go to trial because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a trio of cases to determine the constitutionality of the federal law that defines “honest services.” In the meantime, he’s got a new problem. Prosecutors have charged him with illegally obtaining more than $94,000 from the local union pension fund following a joint probe by the FBI and the Labor Department. “Vincenzo Anello did knowingly and intentionally embezzle and steal [from] an employee pension benefit plan,” FBI Special Agent Brian A. Burns said in court papers. Apparently, the mayor began doing electrical work for at least seven companies owned by Joe Anderson in the early part of 2008, while at the same time collecting his union pension. Pension plan rules prohibit beneficiaries from doing more than 40 hours of electrical work a month in addition to collecting plan-related income. The government alleges that the former mayor filed documents with the union indicating he worked no more than seven hours a week, but in fact worked far more. Court papers indicate that Anello charged Anderson’s companies $50 an hour for his own work and $30 an hour for work done by an employee.

Anello’s attorney, Joel Daniels, believes his client is innocent. “He will be fighting these charges,” he said. “Vince worked 33 years as an electrician, and he’s entitled to his pension. This is a dispute between Vince and the union.” The feds have a different view of things. This past April, FBI agents secretly taped conversations between Anello and an unidentified Anderson employee. “I’m also from the union,” one tape quoted Anello telling the man. “It’s just that I’m working more hours than I should.” The earlier case could go to trial within a few months; the newer one may take a while. One small victory for the defendant:  U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder stated in reference to the newer case that if Anello is not indicted by August 27 or a plea bargain is not arranged by that time, he will dismiss the complaint.