Court documents allege that Niagara Falls Mayoral candidate Seth Piccirillo, with other City officials, overstepped their authority and improperly foreclosed on two properties owned by Sean Wilczak, and then sold them both to an investment vehicle owned or controlled by a close personal friend and political ally, the Buffalo-based developer Bernice Radle.
Wilczak has pending litigation against the City of Niagara Falls, including an ‘Article 78’ abuse of process complaint.
Piccirillo simultaneously serves as the City’s Director of Community Development and as its Acting Director of Code Enforcement — putting the 34-year-old longtime bureaucrat at the crux of much of the City’s decision making governing private investment.
Piccirillo’s critics believe that he has had too much on his plate and that the City is being poorly served in the absence of a well-qualified full-time Director of Code Enforcement. (Piccirillo lacks the certification typically required of code enforcement officers in New York State, which establishes minimum training requirements).
Radle is the founder of Buffalove Development and is the managing partner of Little Wheel Holdings. Radle and Piccarillo are both Dyster loyalists.
Wilczak has been active in calling attention to the City’s many quality of life and economic development challenges. At times, he has been a vocal critic of the administration of outgoing Mayor Paul Dyster.
Wilczak purchased the old Press Box, a shuttered tavern at 324 Niagara Street, a prime parcel across from the Seneca Niagara Casino, to develop the property into a restaurant and pub along the sidewalk with apartments on upper floors.
He also owned 326 Cedar Avenue in the Park Place Historic District.
Ironically — perhaps suspectly — both of those properties were foreclosed on without notice and without properly being served process, he alleges in court documents.
His Cedar Avenue property had less than $1,000 owed in back taxes and Wilczak had been in contact with the City just weeks prior, notifying the City of the delayed payment. At that time, when he tried to get information from an employee in the Tax Assessor’s office, they refused to give him an exact figure on what his property was owed.
He owed less than $7,000 on his Press Box property.
Little Wheel Holdings, a Radle-owned investment vehicle, purchased 326 Cedar Avenue for $10,000 on November 4, 2017. It is now operating as an Airbnb venue with questionable status, and homeowners nearby don’t believe that the building is compliant with the terms of Radle’s agreement with the City Council, which they argue stipulated that the property was not to operate as an internet rental property.
The commercial row house located at 324 Niagara Street was sold to 324 Niagara Street LLC for $10,000 on December 22, 2017. The City had assessed the full market value of that property at nearly $110,000.
A few days later, on December 29, 2017, Radle’s investment vehicle purchased the commercial row house next door (nearly identical in size and construction quality) from a private owner for the actual market value of $325,000.
324 Niagara Street LLC is co-owned by Sam Savarino and Radle, who together proposed locating a Community Beer Works in the space. That project has since stalled, due to the pending litigation. When plans for that brewery were announced in November of 2016, Dyster was on hand to offer The Buffalo News supportive commentary in trumpeting the development as a key accomplishment of his policies.
“Piccirillo has been endorsing projects independently of the City Council,” Wilczak alleges. “People need to look at the relationship between Bernice and Seth to realize how unfair this situation has been.
“I feel like I’ve been raped and violated by City Hall,” he adds.
Wilczak had acquired 326 Cedar Avenue for $20,000 and had invested another $50,000 in improvements, including new electrical work, plumbing, new doors, a furnace, construction materials, and tools that were never returned to him.
Between auction costs, back taxes, and fees, acquiring 324 Niagara Street cost Wilczak more than $50,000, and he hesitated to put a value on how much he had invested in improvements in that property.
“It makes me sick to give a number,” he reflects. “If you’re a property owner there shouldn’t be politics to owning a business or developing it.”