Niagara Gazette

June 19, 2013

Lewiston voters polled

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Voters in the Town of Lewiston have been receiving some interesting telephone calls in the wake of a recent visit to town hall by agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Attorney General's Office. 

During recent telephone polls, voters have been asked for their opinions on the quality of representation in local government, both past and present. So far, polling has inquired about residential confidence in current Town Supervisor Steve Reiter as well as town board members Michael Marra and Ernest Palmer. Residents are also asked about their familiarity and feelings about state Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, former Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, former state senate candidate Amy Hope Witryol, D-Lewiston, and Dennis Brochey, a Democrat Lewiston Village Trustee now running for supervisor.

At least one question touches on a topic discussed by Reiter and other town officials following the visit by the FBI agents and state investigators. The question asks how voters feel about "stealing gas from the town," an item several people interviewed by authorities confirmed came up during the course of their conversations. 

Niagara County Democratic Party Chairman Nick Forster said Lewiston residents have been receiving a series of phone calls over the past few nights.The callers refuse to reveal who is paying for the surveys, according to Forster who said his party is not responsible for them. 

"Whoever is behind this polling is running scared and attempting to blur the issues," said Forster. "What they should be asking Lewiston residents is wouldn't they like clean and open government for a change instead of the behind-closed-doors, good-old-boy network that now runs the town."

FBI agents and investigators from the state Attorney General's Office interviewed more than a dozen individuals during a visit to Town Hall earlier this month as part of what was described as an "ongoing matter."

Following the visit, an FBI spokesperson would only confirm that agents had been in the "Lewiston jurisdiction." The spokesperson declined to discuss the nature of the "ongoing matter" or the results of the interviews.

Reiter later confirmed that he spoke to authorities for about two hours and said the discussion involved "some situations in the town and some past practices" and that agents wanted to see what town officials "were doing about it."

Reiter described the conversations as involving at least two specific areas — town work on private property and gas usage.

Both issues were raised as part of a 2011 state comptroller's audit that expressed concern about, among other things, the town's handling of municipal fuel supplies and "questionable" drainage repairs performed by the highway department during the audit period between Jan. 1, 2009 and March 18, 2011.

Reiter also said he was told by investigators that their work was expected to be wrapped "fairly quickly," adding that he believed they were "satisfied with a lot of the explanations for different scenarios."

On Wednesday, Reiter, who served as town highway department superintendent at the time the state audit was performed, denied any involvement in polling citizens. He also confirmed his intentions to seek a third term as supervisor. He is up for election this year. Brochey, a registered Democrat, has announced plans to challenge him. 

"So far, I am (seeking another term), yes," Reiter said.

Niagara County Republican Chairman Scott P. Kiedrowski declined comment on the polling happening in Lewiston, but did say it doesn't surprise him it's happening.

"I'm not surprised there's polling going on right now in Lewiston," he said. "There are a lot of important races in the town. But I cannot comment on whether or not we're polling or for what purpose. That's information for our candidates only."

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.