Former Niagara Falls Building Commissioner Guy Bax,66, leaves US District Court after pleadign guilty to corruption charges
BUFFALO, N.Y. - The former Building Commissioner for the City of Niagara Falls is facing thousands of dollars in fines and possibly up to 14 months behind bars for pleading guilty in a corruption probe that dates back to 2009.
Guy Bax, 66, appeared before Judge Richard Arcara in U.S. District Court Tuesday morning and pleaded guilty to one count of accepting a gratuity concerning a program receiving federal funds.
While such a charge carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment, federal sentencing guidelines would dictate a far less severe penalty for Bax, due to his cooperation with investigators and his lack of criminal history.
Bax admitted steering applicants for city permits needed for both commercial building renovations and residential certificates of occupancy to contractor John Gross as a condition of getting Bax's approval. In return, Gross' company, David Gross Contracting, did work on Bax's home at cost; in addition to treating the city official to an all expenses paid fishing trip, according to federal prosecutors.
"They weren't large gratuities...they were rather minimal," Bax's attorney Terrence Connors told WGRZ-TV. "But nevertheless he understood that they were against the law, he shouldn't have done it, and he should have been more diligent in his responsibilities to the people of Niagara Falls."
Gross is currently serving a 33-month federal prison term for tax evasion and mail fraud.
On February 24, 2012, the assets of David Gross Contracting were purchased by Buffalo resident Bridget Williams, who now operates the business known as Gross PHC, LLC, completely independently of and with no affiliation to John Gross.
In outlining the plea agreement in court, First Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr said Bax "used his position to give Gross a competitive advantage."
Kennedy also said Bax would create a perception among individuals seeking needed permits that if they used Gross for their job, they would have an "easier time" obtaining those permits, as well an easier time with city inspectors who would have to eventually approve the work when finished.
Kennedy told Arcara the government was ready to produce at least two witnesses to testify that they felt strong armed in such fashion, and that city workers, as well as employees of David Gross Contracting, would also be called as witnesses.
He also said e-mails sent between Bax and Gross would provide additional proof of the allegations, should the case have proceeded to trial.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster suspended Bax in July 2009 amid questions about his building inspector's dealings with the Gross and a raid on his business. Bax retired last January of 2001 as the federal investigation into the matter continued.
Dyster, who was winging his way back to Niagara Falls Tuesday after attending the Presidential Inauguration, told Two On Your Side the plea vindicated his decision to remove Gross from his job.
"I hope this finally brings some closure to this episode," Dyster told Channel 2 News by phone. "I hope the business community in Western New York realizes the Department of Code Enforcement we have in our city today is a far cry from the department of inspections which existed under Guy Bax."
"It's incredibly humiliating for him, it's incredibly depressing for him, and he's full of remorse," said Connors, whose client declined comment as he left the U.S District Courthouse.
Bax remains free pending his sentencing before Judge Arcara on May 10th.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 on Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalists Dooley O'Rourke and Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2