NIAGARA FALLS, NY - The last time former Niagara Falls Mayor Vince Anello spoke before the media, it was in December, 2010, inside a court room, when he stood before a Federal Judge for sentencing.
At the time, Anello proclaimed "I was at the top of the mountain, now I'm at the bottom of the valley. I blame no one but myself."
Just before last Christmas, Anello was released after serving 10 months of a 13 month sentence, stemming from his guilty plea to receiving $55,000 in union pension funds, which he wasn't entitled to while continuing to work full time as an electrician after he had left office.
Anello served his sentence at a minimum security camp for non- violent offenders, at the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland.
"I put myself there. I made all those decisions. I'm not blaming anybody for it," Anello said during a lengthy interview with WGRZ-TV.
18 lbs. lighter than when he began serving his sentence last February (Anello blames lousy prison food) Anello says during most of his sentence he was assigned a job as a maintenance man inside the prison chapel.
"I had been in the (military) service, okay ,so I was prepared for a structured lifestyle," Anello said of his incarceration. "I didn't have any sleepless nights being afraid or anything... not because I feel I was tough, but because I didn't feel I had anything to be afraid of," he said.
Anello says while in prison he became friends with many other inmates and a trusted counselor to several of them.
Anello now tells Two On Your Side he plead guilty due in part to the personal and monetary toll the pending case against him was taking.
"After almost 7 years of a justice department and FBI investigations it was time to put an end to it, both emotionally financially... You can do something wrong and not have it rise to the level of criminality... if I had the resources I would have argued that point in court."
Anello had also faced charges under the Honest Services law, surrounding his acceptance of a $40,000 interest free loan-with no repayment terms - from Tuscarora businessman Joe Anderson, when Anello was campaigning for Mayor. After Anello took office, the city awarded Anderson a contract to develop a pedestrian mall in the Cataract City's South End.
However, prosecutors could not proceed with the case after a Supreme Court ruling which essentially eliminated their ability to try a public official on the mere appearance of impropriety, ruling instead that such charges could only be levied with proof that an actual crime had occurred.
Though the ruling helped him avoid prosecution on those counts, Anello is steadfast in maintaining his innocence to this day.
"In regard to the Honest Services statue, I did not commit a crime," insisted Anello, while hastening to add that, "I did not sign the contract until after it was passed by City Council." (Anderson, who plead guilty in the case and agreed to cooperate was later sentenced to probation).
Asked how the community should receive him, Anello replied, "They should receive me like anybody else who made a mistake and is trying to make it right."
Asked how he might make things right, Anello said, "as a volunteer. I have a lot to offer, I still have a lot of enthusiasm for the city of Niagara Falls... I feel I'm still Niagara Falls' best cheerleader, and I'm going to continue to do that."
Anello says his incarceration made him appreciate his family and his freedom, both of which were stripped from him, more than ever. "That...and it made me appreciate my friends, and taught me that your friends are your friends, and those who aren't don't matter," he said.
Anello, who now works in his brother's business, says the reception he has received thus far from the citizens he used to serve has been nothing short of remarkable.
"I've never received more hugs, kisses, and warm handshakes ever in my life....wherever I go, on the street, in a restaurant, or a gas station," he said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bill Boyer.
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