NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Some might consider it an unusual going-away party.
"He's just a super nice guy who happens to be in a predicament right now, I really wouldn't want that to define what he's done for 50 years," said Richard Palladino, one of the organizers of the farewell party and fundraiser for Niagara Falls businessman John Gross.
The predicament Palladino refers to is the fact that Gross is about to go to federal prison for 33 months after pleading guilty to failing to report more than $240,000 on his income taxes, and mail fraud and bid rigging involving work that Gross illegally obtained and performed for two Niagara County businesses.
The event, billed as the "First Annual 'It's a Party' Cocktail Event with John Gross," was organized by members of the Niagara Falls Republican Committee and Laborers Local 91, a union once marred by a reputation for extortion and racketeering.
"Every year our committee does a charity event," said Bob Krause, Chairman of the Niagara Falls Republican Committee. "And they approached us with this idea of a combination of a farewell to John and to raise money for his charities."
2 On Your Side's Sarah Hopkins asked: "Were you conflicted about that at all given he's going to jail?"
Krause: "He understands that, he understands he did wrong... on the other hand, John has given out a lot to the community."
And to repay him, Gross's supporters say every cent raised at this fundraiser will go to charities he supports: Opportunities Unlimited, Community mission, and the Community Soup Kitchen.
Sarah Hopkins asked: "There is a perception of a culture of corruption in Niagara Falls, and I think a lot of people feel that way. Are you afraid that this perpetuates that?"
Krause: "A lot of people have good feelings for John. He's helped out a lot of people.... He's been sort of a Robin Hood for a lot of people in this city."
After he drew tickets from the raffle, Gross sat down to talk with us about the fundraiser.
Sarah Hopkins asked: "Do you think because you're going to jail soon, it maybe looks bad, to somebody from the outside?"
Gross: "No no. Because I've been in the community for 55 years, I've been taking care of all the charities. I made a mistake and people aren't mad at me."
Hundreds turned out for the event; and they certainly didn't seem mad.
Sarah Hopkins asked: "But still though, doesn't it seem a little bit odd to be having a fundraiser in the honor of somebody who's going to prison?"
Krause: "Not really. You've got to know John to understand."
Palladino: "He's really, a really good man."
Sarah Hopkins: "Even though he committed tax fraud?"
Palladino: "Even though."