NIAGARA FALLS - A downtown businesswoman said an FBI agent interviewed her Thursday about operations at an office building owned by developer Frank Parlato Jr.
Parlato has created a tourist hub using a city agreement that gives him a five-month moratorium on the usual approvals.
Debora Krieger said the agent interviewed her for two hours and asked several questions about Parlato and Paul A. Grenga, the Falls attorney who brokered the city agreement on his behalf.
FBI spokesman Paul M. Moskal would not confirm or deny that the FBI interviewed Krieger.
"Isn't this a little hearsay, especially when she is a disgruntled former tenant?" Parlato asked Thursday. "I think she made it up. I think it's a fabrication."
Krieger, who ran the former Bada Bean Coffeehouse and Cafe on Niagara Street, put that business on hold this spring in order to open a coffee and ice cream shop at 360 Rainbow Blvd. She said Parlato and Grenga were running the mall-like first floor of the vacant office building in an unprofessional manner, and she left after about a month.
She currently runs a food stand on the West Pedestrian Mall, and Grenga said he is representing a client who is evicting her from that space.
Grenga said he didn't doubt the conversation occurred.
"She has an ax to grind as a result of my having been retained to evict her from the West Mall for nonpayment to a corporation called New India Inc.," Grenga said. "The FBI is doing exactly what they're supposed to be doing in that FBI interviews are initiated in a number of ways, including having people voluntarily call them for their own purposes, which I believe Debbie has done here."
Krieger said she does not have a score to settle and believes Grenga's client is going to be proven in breach of contract in a city court hearing. Parlato took over the building - formerly Occidental Chemical - and after that the site of a failed underground aquarium project in 2004 with then-partner Steven Pigeon through a corporation called One Niagara. Parlato is in arrears for $700,000 in county, city and school property taxes.
Under Parlato's April 25 Stipulation of Settlement with the city, he agreed to bring his building up to safety and fire codes and apply for various permits and approvals by September. In exchange, the city would drop its lawsuit over sidewalk, vendor and parking-code violations filed last year in city court, and Parlato would be able to operate souvenir and food sales throughout the summer "as if said approvals have been granted," according to the document.
A Freedom of Information Law request filed last month by The Buffalo News and a request made at a recent public meeting by City Council Chairman Charles Walker to obtain that agreement were both denied by the city's Law Department.
The Buffalo News and Walker received the document this week. Parlato gave it to The News, while the Law Department changed its mind and gave it to Walker. However, the Council leader remains highly critical of the city's decision to make a deal that he feels is unfair to business owners who have to obtain permits and site-plan approval from the Planning Board before they can begin operating. He and other Council members are also upset that the settlement was kept from them, and they want to know why.
Krieger said the investigator was interested in the agreement.
"We talked for quite a long time, and he's very interested in the things that are going on," she said. "He asked about connections with people from the city. . . . He wanted to know who has business dealings with whom."
Parlato said his settlement with the city is "100 percent pure" and Grenga is "one of the most ethical and responsible lawyers I've ever worked with."