By Tony Farina
Long-time businessman Frank Parlato, 60, joined the Fourth Estate later in life but he has definitely made his mark in his relatively brief time as a newspaper publisher, editor, and reporter.
I began my professional journalism career in 1966 at the Lockport Union & Journal and went on to investigative reporting at the old Buffalo Courier-Express and on local television, and I can tell you that Frank Parlato has impressed me with his dogged determination and his steel-nosed approach to getting behind the headlines and telling the public what is really going on, whether in the long-suffering city of Niagara Falls or in other communities across the Western New York region, stories too numerous to mention here.
Perhaps most impressive was his uncovering of the relationship between the Maid of the Mist owner Jimmy Glynn and the Canadian government which gave the Niagara Falls businessman a monopoly on both sides of the river for his world famous boat ride. As a result of Parlato’s work, the Canadian government opened up the boat tours to the bidding process and secured a huge windfall in payments from the new operator totaling $500 million over 30 years compared to the $81 million Glynn had agreed to pay under the old contract before he was ousted in the bidding process..
The new Canadian boat operator also agreed to pay New York State $100 million more than Glynn over the next 30 years if he won the bid but was blocked by a back-room deal between the governor and the Glynn people that kept Glynn in business without the risk of a bidding process. Nonetheless, the new rate negotiated for Glynn, thanks to the Parlato series, means three-times more for New York State in boat tour revenue over the next 30 years than the old agreement called for. It was all the result of Parlato’s strong reporting.
Parlato fought hard to dig out the truth and it paid off for taxpayers on both sides of the border. This is the same businessman who 10 years ago acquired the abandoned Occidental Building in Niagara Falls complete with a huge hole in the front, and through grit and determination—and pretty much by himself– built it into a successful tourist-friendly business that has created hundreds of jobs all without a penny of public money.
Now Parlato is facing another kind of challenge, defending himself against a 19-count federal indictment that alleges in part that he cheated the IRS and others in a scheme involving multiple bank accounts and companies. Parlato, true to his character, has fought the government probe every step of the way (four years) and turned down taking a plea because in his mind and in his heart he believes the government is completely off the mark and he won’t admit to something he didn’t do, insisting the multiple bank accounts were necessary because of the numerous lawsuits filed by a minority owner of the tourist center, Sam Shmueli, who has lost in just about every court in the area and who has been the subject of recent stories by Parlato about his deceptive tactics.
Frank Parlato won’t walk quietly into the night. He is a strong, resilient man who will fight the charges to the end. Parlato has assembled a top defense team including prominent Buffalo attorneys Herb Greenman, Joel Daniels, and Ralph Lorigo. He successfully opposed a government bid to get a gag order at his arraignment this week, as his lawyers challenged the notion of suspending his First Amendment rights to stop him from writing about a case he feels is totally misguided.
Readers should remember that an indictment is not a conviction but rather a formal charge of alleged crimes following a grand jury investigation directed and controlled by prosecutors. Now Parlato and his lawyers will have their opportunity to examine that indictment and prepare to give their response to the men and women of a jury. Parlato is confident that when a jury sees all the evidence, the truth will prevail. As he said outside court Monday after his arraignment, “Today I made the first statement in my defense. ‘Not guilty!’”