BUFFALO — Lawyers for the former owner of the iconic One Niagara building, and a business associate, say they need more time to go through mountains of paperwork tied to a federal grand jury indictment that charges their clients with a massive tax fraud scheme.
In a filing in U.S, District Court in Buffalo, attorney Justin Ginter requested an additional 60 days for the defense to file pre-trial motions on behalf of Frank Parlato Jr. and Chitra Selvaraj. Ginter cites "a complex case" and "the extensive discovery provided by the government" as reasons to grant a delay in the case.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah McCarthy, noting that federal prosecutors had no objection to the delay, gave the Parlato defense team until Oct. 24 to file their motions. Oral arguments on those motions are set for mid-December.
Parlato, who has adamantly denied any wrong-doing, told the Gazette lawyers with the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York have jumped to incorrect conclusions in the case.
"(The case) is complex only because the government has made so many mistakes," he said. "Their case is filled with mistakes and hasty conclusions. We don't want the government to embarrass themselves."
Parlato suggested that when his pre-trial motions are filed, his innocence will be obvious.
"I have nothing to hide," Parlato said. "I am 100 percent transparent."
Parlato, 60, and Selvaraj, 41, have pleaded not guilty to a 19-count indictment charging them with a conspiracy “to defraud the United States and certain members of the public, to obstruct the function of the Internal Revenue Service, wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy, money laundering, and corrupt interference with the administration of the IRS laws.”
The charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Parlato, once identified as the "managing partner" at the One Niagara building, a local real estate developer, publisher of the Niagara Falls Reporter and editor-in-chief of ArtVoice, and Selvaraj, who functioned as the chief financial officer for Parlato's business enterprises are free on bail while their case proceeds. The pair have been required to surrender their passports and their travel is now restricted to Western New York and south Florida, areas where Parlato maintains homes.
The indictment followed a four year investigation into Parlato's business dealings. The investigation first became known in 2011, when federal agents served subpoenas looking for records at the One Niagara building.
Since that time, federal law enforcement sources had indicated that Parlato was the subject of an “active investigation” but provided few details of the probe.
The indictment charges Parlato and Selvaraj with orchestrating a scheme to defraud the Internal Revenue Service and others through the use of more than 15 shell companies, 50 bank accounts, and multiple attorney trust accounts. Sources said the investigation took years to complete because of the complexity of the scheme which involved the movement of large sums of cash through multiple accounts.
“It was like Whack-A-Mole,” one high-ranking law enforcement source said.
The complexity of the case has been on display previously. At Parlato and Selvaraj's arraignment, federal prosecutors asked for three months to organize and turn over what they characterized as "voluminous amounts" of evidence in the case to defense attorneys.
Defense attorneys were then given six months to review the evidence and prepare their pre-trial motions.
Parlato did not speak to reporters at his arraignment. But in a written statement, distributed by a spokesperson, he strongly maintained his innocence.
"Frank Parlato is not interested in any plea deal because he does not believe her did anything wrong," the statement read. "He is confident, after trial, the jury will agree."
Sources have told the Gazette that Parlato, prior to his indictment, had been in “negotiations” with federal prosecutors in an effort to avoid being charged. One of Parlato’s business lawyers, Ralph Lorigo, took issue with that description, saying “We’ve been presenting information to the United States attorney to show (him) that no crime has been done.”
A virtual who’s who of local lawyers, including former United States Magistrate Judge Carol Heckman and former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, reportedly met with prosecutors to press Parlato’s claim that he did no wrong.
Lorigo also confirmed that Parlato had turned down plea offers from the feds.