Archive | January, 2012

Valenti’s Goes to Court

31 Jan

If you’re wondering why we’re still following the Valenti’s saga (begun here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated here, here, herehere, here, and here), it’s because the commentariat has weighed in well over 2,500 times. It’s generally the same 10 – 15 commenters adding details, accusations, and trading barbs, but I’ve received lots of positive feedback from people who remain riveted by how a mediocre red sauce joint could generate so much interest and hatred.

Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio took possession of the restaurant property in late September pursuant to a lease that commenced on October 1st. Their landlord, Frank Budwey, agreed to give them two free months’ rent, and also to pay deposits to National Fuel and National Grid to enable Valenti’s to turn those utilities on – they didn’t have the capital to do it.

The restaurant, however, wasn’t in Terry Valenti’s name. Instead, the property was co-owned by Brocuglio and an acquaintance of theirs named Melissa Janiszewski, who has since become estranged from them. There have been allegations made that Janiszewski’s credit and identity were deceitfully misappropriated. In North Tonawanda City Court yesterday, Ms. Janiszewski sat with Mr. Budwey.

Terry Valenti sat in the front row, with three people who were set to testify on the restaurant’s behalf. He was wearing a black button-down shirt, his head was uncovered, and he had shaven off his facial hair, leaving him almost unrecognizable. Ms. Brocuglio arrived soon thereafter, wearing a black specked suit and a red suede fringe jacket. When she sat down, she briefly spoke with their attorney, Mark Carney, and held up some sort of CD-ROM to one of their supporters and seemed proud of it for some reason.

Frank Budwey approached Carney and asked him if he had been paid. Carney replied that it was, “none of [his] business”, and Mr. Budwey retorted that he didn’t want Mr. Carney to waste his time. Under normal circumstances, a lawyer is not permitted to talk with a party opponent in any way, and had I been in Mr. Carney’s shoes I would have simply replied that I was not permitted to speak with Mr. Budwey, remained silent, or advised Budwey’s counsel of the approach.

Judge William Lewis presided over the rather informal eviction trial. Budwey’s attorney, James Rizzo, elicited testimony from Mr. Budwey about the non-payment of rent, now alleged to be $5,200. At one time, Brocuglio wrote Budwey a bad check for $3,000, a crime that is being contemporaneously prosecuted in North Tonawanda Court, and paid Budwey what he says was $500 cash in early January. However, the receipt for that cash shows $1,500 was received – Budwey claims that Brocuglio added the “1”. Judge for yourself:

$500 or $1,500?

Budwey testified that Valenti’s paid utilities for October and November, but not since. He testified that they have never been current on owed rent. On January 13th, Budwey terminated the lease by serving a 3-day notice to quit, and he filed the eviction action a week later.

However, Budwey claims that he crafts his leases to enable him to take self-help measures to secure the property and payment of rent if the tenant is 10 days in arrears. Under that provision, Budwey gives himself the right to enter and secure payment without the lease needing first to be terminated, and without any notice.

That’s exactly what Budwey did on January 11th – 11 days after the January rent was unpaid – he shut off the gas, blocked the doors, politely asked patrons to leave and offered to pay them cash, and wanted to prevent Valenti and Brocuglio the ability to destroy or loot the premises. The police were called, and Budwey relented. On cross-examination by Mr. Carney, Mr. Budwey acknowledged that he had recently changed the locks and the alarm codes. Mr. Carney’s questioning and demeanor were often argumentative (not that he was being rude, but that he was improperly making an argument during questioning), and at one point Carney and Rizzo got into a shouting match that was ended when Judge Lewis did a bit of yelling himself.

Carney made the point to the judge that he intended to remove the case to Supreme Court to pursue a claim against Budwey for self-help, seeking treble damages. Since that hadn’t been accomplished or applied for, Judge Lewis continued with the eviction proceeding.

The eviction is a simple action for Budwey to re-take possession of the unit, terminating the lease. There aren’t many defenses available to a commercial tenant in this situation – either the rent is paid, or it’s not. Valenti and Brocuglio’s claims about Budwey’s alleged illegal self-help are not defenses to the eviction, but a separate action for money damages. It is entirely possible that Budwey wins possession, but that he loses a subsequent trial for money damages in another venue. In speaking with Mr. Budwey, he indicates that he’d gladly pay to be forever rid of Valenti and Brocuglio, and he isn’t concerned about their threats of ongoing litigation.

At one point, I observed Mr. Budwey getting rather animated, requiring his attorney to shush him. I observed Mr. Budwey look directly at the seated Mr. Valenti, and ask him to “come on, speak up!” By contrast, Ms. Brocuglio was standing next to Mr. Carney the entire time, at one point looking back at Ms. Janiszewski and shaking her head at her. When Carney asked Budwey if the Valentis had abandoned the premises, Terry Valenti audibly said, “no”, and Ms. Brocuglio turned around and shushed him.

As Mr. Carney’s cross-examination was briefly halted, the judge sustained Mr. Rizzo’s objection over the line of questioning having to do with the lock-out. Rizzo argued that self-help is irrelevant for purposes of the eviction action, and based on the lease language, the judge agreed. However, the judge had to adjourn the proceeding because of a personal matter, and it will again be taken up at 11am on Tuesday.

As I waited to see if anyone would talk to me (unlikely as they’re all represented by counsel), Ms. Brocuglio approached me. She said, “hi, Alan”, adding, “I’m glad that now you’ve heard more of the story.” She told me that much of what people have left in comments here at Artvoice Daily are lies, and that this is all “from a divorce”. She refused to be interviewed on camera, and was whisked away to talk with her lawyer and supporters.

Before the proceeding, Budwey provided me with this document, which he says shows that even if Valenti’s was allowed to re-open, he’d still owe various creditors thousands.

Budwey told me that, when he went away to Jamaica, he offered to give Terry Valenti a second chance – a blank slate – all he had to do was keep Lori Brocuglio off the premises. Terry told Budwey that he would, but when Budwey left, Brocuglio was present at the restaurant every day. Before going COD with Tarantino and SYSCO, Valenti’s stocked up on over $10,000 of food, and supplemented that with Curtze, the last purveyor who would work with them. When the electric was shut off last week, all that food is now rotting, and the foam flame retardant system was deliberately activated by someone. Mr. Budwey clearly likes Terry Valenti and was willing to work with him, but he reserves a special hatred and disgust for Ms. Brocuglio; whenever he mentioned her name he used exquisitely colorful expletives.

If you pass by Valenti’s Restaurant now – a place that Janice Okun awarded 2 1/2 stars just 5 short week ago – a place supposedly run by an Iron Chef winner and CIA graduate, it now looks like this:

And had they not lied to Brian Kahle, Channel 7, and Janice Okun, no one would be paying them any attention.




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AV Photo Daily: 1/31/12

31 Jan

Buffalo Main Light (Lighthouse)

Buffalo Main Light by Jodi:)

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The Morning Grumpy – 1/31/2012

31 Jan

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Ezra Klein does a mighty fine job comparing the economic records of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

In 1983, when Reagan was trying to get the economy out of recession, revenues were 17.5 percent of GDP. In 2010, when Obama was trying to guide the economy into a recovery, revenues were 14.9 percent of GDP.

Obama’s policies have temporarily increased deficits. Reagan’s policies permanently increased them.

A worthy read.

2. Seems like this should be a bigger story.

The Iraqi government in 2004 gave the Department of Defense access to about $3 billion to pay bills for certain contracts, and the department can only show what happened to about a third of that, the inspector general says in an audit published Friday.

From July 2004 through December 2007, DoD should have provided 42 monthly reports. However, it can locate only the first four reports.

This isn’t the first time we’ve found out about missing billions in Iraq.

The man Congress put in charge of auditing the billions of dollars dumped on Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled has told the Los Angels Times he can’t rule out the possibility that $6.6 billion in cash sent from the U.S. was stolen.

Special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction Stuart Bowen told the Times the missing money may represent “the largest theft of funds in national history.”

It’s not just our money that is missing. We seem to have left $17BN Iraqi dollars in our other pants or some such excuse

The United States was responsible for administering the Development Fund for Iraq, set up after the 2003 invasion with money from Iraqi oil sales, frozen Saddam Hussein-era assets, and money left from the UN oil-for-food program.

The US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the watchdog for reconstruction funds, has issued two reports about the use of money from the development fund showing that as much as $17 billion cannot be accounted for properly.

Starting to sound that maybe, just maybe, this war wasn’t on the up-and-up. How about some serious investigations, President Obama?

3. Here’s a few ideas for those looking for ways to re-purpose the empty and decaying churches on Buffalo’s east side.

4. According to a report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a D.C. advocacy group, 43 percent of Americans would fall into poverty within three months if they were to experience a sudden financial shock, such as losing a job or facing a medical emergency.

“Growing numbers of families have almost no savings or other assets to see them through if they lose their jobs or face a medical crisis,” said Andrea Levere, president of CFED. “Without savings, few will be able to build a more economically secure future, including buying a home, saving for their children’s college educations or building a retirement nest egg.” The tenuous financial position of so many households is due to a combination of “flat wages, the high cost of medical treatment and the nationwide drop in housing values leaving homeowners with less wealth.”


5. Keep fighting the President, Republicans.

Long, drawn-out skirmishes over the debt ceiling, the supercommittee and the payroll tax holiday have led to a 64 percent unfavorable rating for Republicans, with their favorable numbers sitting at 29 percent, according to an internal poll conducted by GOP pollster David Winston in the final days of December 2011.

To illustrate how precipitous a drop that is, Republicans started off 2011 with a 43 percent favorable rating and 46 percent unfavorable rating.

At the same time, President Barack Obama continues to gain ground on congressional Republicans on a central issue: jobs and growing the economy. When asked who is more focused on those two objectives, 49 percent of those polled believe it’s Obama, while 40 percent say it’s Republicans in Congress. It’s the fifth straight month Obama was ahead of Republicans in Congress — Republicans led Obama in early August.

With Congressional Republicans shooting themselves in the foot and the Republican Presidential candidates trying to “out-1%” each other, it’s shaping up as a good year for Democrats.

Fact Of The Day: Wondering what the image at the top of this post is all about? Here you go.

Quote Of The Day: “We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to to speak of and act on their belief. At the same time that our Constitution prohibits state establishment of religion, it protects the free exercise of all religions. And walking this fine line requires government to be strictly neutral.” – President Ronald Reagan

Song Of The Day: “Boy With A Coin” – Iron and Wine

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LeRoy High School: No Photo!

30 Jan

Over the weekend, the LeRoy story about high school kids suddenly developing unexplained Tourettes-like symptons took a strange turn. Some of the families have retained the services of Erin Brockovich, who consults with personal injury / environmental tort law firm Weitz & Luxenburg, among others. (You may know Weitz & Luxenburg as being the firm for which Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver works).  

The Brockovich team was on hand over the weekend to take soil and water samples from the general area around the high school, and brought the media along to watch & inquire. The school district, however, appears to be overreacting to this, playing hardball with respect to the small town media circus this is becoming. Howard Owens from the Batavian comments

[Brockovich investigator Bob] Bowcock was told by [LeRoy Central School District rep Bill] Albert that he could walk the grounds, just like any other citizen in Le Roy, but could not take soil samples, and the media would not be allowed on the grounds. Albert said that while members of the media were citizens, they could not go on the property while acting in capacity as media, even though numerous Supreme Court cases have not drawn a distinction between a “person” and a “corporate entity” (most recently Citizens United) for the purpose of First Amendment rights.

School property is public property and public access cannot be denied so long as it does not disrupt the educational purpose of the campus.

The media was on site during non-school hours and there was no evidence of educational activity. To label the media presence as “criminal activity” is beyond ludicrous.

Ludicrous indeed.  But not because of the distinction between a “person” and any other legal entity, but because if a person has the right to traverse the property, a person with a camera has the right to photograph them, and a person with a microphone has a right to question them. The school district’s reaction to all of this is likely guided by overprotective counsel, but is fast becoming comical. The environment at the school could quite possibly hold the key to this outbreak of an unknown malady, and the school should be welcoming additional investigators and scrutiny – not lobbing Soviet-era threats as if this is some military secret. 

The LeRoy High School isn’t Area 51, and the families of kids who go there have a right to be 100% sure they’re not learning trigonometry and science on top of an environmental catastrophe. 

ECHDC Food Market Survey

30 Jan

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation is asking for the public’s input concerning restaurant and food market opinions and decisions.  I have an email in to ask, but take a look, fill it out, and let me know what you think it’s all about. 

I think it’s part of the planning for a proposed food market at Canal Side, and also possibly to prioritize what sort of restaurant concessions are approved or pursued. This way, when Goldman et al. complain about what ends up there, the Authority can point to the survey and argue that they sought and received public input, and avoid controversy over who speaks for whom. 

AV Photo Daily: 1/30/12

30 Jan

Buffalo, NY

Buffalo, NY by jilleatsapples

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The Morning Grumpy – 1/30/2012

30 Jan

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1.  There is another choice for republican voters in this election if they don’t care for Newt The Insider, Mitt “1%” Romney, Rick “Santorum” Santorum, or Ron “Gold Standard” Paul. His name is Buddy Roemer and he’s a pretty interesting guy. You see, Buddy lost his job as Governor of Louisiana when a wealthy industrialist poured $500,000 into a last minute advertising blitz during the final days of the election. Since then, Mr. Roemer has been an advocate of getting money out of politics.

Every election features someone trying to run as an outsider candidate. In 2012, it’s Buddy. Politico describes him as the Occupy Wall Street candidate, even though he is a Republican.

“I think conservatives believe in first principles. They believe that hard work should be rewarded. They believe that this country is great because it’s been generally free. And conservatives see that that’s disappearing. They see now that a big check can take the place of a big idea. They see now that the structure is not for the base, but is for the peak. It’s for the top one or two percent. They see Wall Street riddled with fraudulent documents. They see it riddled with the attitude of ‘let’s fire Americans and go overseas.’ They see it riddled with things that have had and will have bad effects on this economy.”

I love the smell of populism in the morning. His campaign has struggled to gain traction, primarily because it is woefully underfunded due to his own self-inflicted campaign finance rules.

Roemer has limited donations to $100 per US citizen, and is denying all PAC, Super PAC, and corporate donations.His campaign garnered some visibility, nonetheless, when Roemer starred in an advertisement for Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC, in November 2011. The ad lampooned the flimsiness of legal restrictions against Super PACs coordinating with the candidates they support.

I’m not pretending that the guy is a legitimate candidate, but the issue he advocates for – reducing the influence of money on politics, elections, and policy is incredibly important. He’s a salient voice of reason in a party that desperately needs it and I hope he can get a little more attention for himself while influencing the public discourse during this absurdly expensive election.

2. Jay Rosen asks a pretty interesting question…

[blackbirdpie url=”!/jayrosen_nyu/status/163679947444060161″%5D

3. The Republican “establishment” has lost control of their Tea Party “tiger”.

“I don’t think they can (stop Gingrich) because the people behind him are the Fox News viewers and the talk radio listeners, and that is the Republican establishment.”

Newt isn’t dead yet. He maintains a slight national lead over Romney and will pick up some steam in smaller caucus states after he takes his lumps in Florida, setting up Super Tuesday as his final stand.

4. As Mitt Romney is about to win the Florida republican primary, I thought it would be fun to take a guided tour of the mormon religion as written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Not surprisingly, one of the simplest breakdowns of the religion you’ll find anywhere.

Joseph Smith, Part 1:

Joseph Smith, Part 2:

Joseph Smith, Part 3:

Joseph Smith, Part 4:

5. An instant classic from Bill Maher as he takes on the myth of Saul Alinsky and the very real conservative media bubble.

6. Presented without comment:

Fact Of The Day: Charles Manson was a Scientologist. So, they have that going for them, which is nice.

Quote Of The Day: “Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands that you’ve got to work hard if you’re going to be financially successful. That’s the American way. The question is: Are we creating opportunity for everybody?” – President Barack Obama

Song Of The Day: “Love Vigilantes” – New Order

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AV Photo Daily: 1/29/12

29 Jan

Mary Hannah

Mary Hannah by tark9

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AV Photo Daily: 1/28/12

28 Jan

Pride of Baltimore II

Pride of Baltimore II by tark9

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14 Gerrymanders

27 Jan

During the 2010 election, one of the main themes had to do with reforming state government. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch spearheaded an effort to promote independent redistricting, and sought to hold lawmakers accountable. With NY Uprising’s list of “heroes” and “enemies” of reform, Koch’s group managed to bring the issue to the forefront. 

Yesterday, the State Senate’s proposed districts were released, and there’s nothing independent  about the way they were drawn. Koch is predictably incensed, accusing lawmakers of breaking their pledges, and calling the process, “disgraceful” and accused lawmakers who broke their pledge of losing all “credibility”.  For his part, Governor Cuomo has already said he may veto the entire effort.  Here’s how the LATFOR redistricting task force was created: 

The Task Force consists of six members, including four legislators and two non-legislators. The Temporary President of the Senate appoints one legislator, Michael F. Nozzolio (Co-Chair), and one non-legislator, Welquis R. Lopez. The Speaker of the Assembly also appoints one legislator, Assemblyman John J. McEneny (Co-Chair), and one non-legislator, Roman Hedges. The Minority Leaders of the Assembly and the Senate each appoint one legislator: Assemblyman Robert Oaks and Senator Martin Malavé Dilan.

Let’s take a look at the current and proposed Senate and Assembly Districts covering WNY. 

Grisanti’s district is to be entirely in Erie County, while Maziarz absorbs Niagara Falls. Ranzenhofer gets his first urban area way out in Monroe County, while Kennedy gets most of Buffalo, Cheektowaga, and Lackawanna. Gallivan’s district remains largely rural, except it doesn’t reach as far east as before, and he has suburbs such as West Seneca, Lancaster, and Henrietta. The careful line-drawing protects incumbents – little more.  Just look at how carefully districts 60 and 63 carve through Buffalo’s west side: 

Street by Street

 Assembly lines aren’t much better. 


(Giglio (A-149), Burling (A-147), and Goodell (A-150), whose current districts cover counties in the Southern Tier, rural counties further east and south, are omitted). It would appear in the Assembly that Smardz may lose his district, and it should be noted that Congressional lines have yet to be drawn or proposed. 

If the system is a broken one, this is the process that is in most need of repair. Despite several years’ worth of guarantees and promises concerning apolitical independence, we’re right back to square one, and it’s wholly unacceptable. A veto is the only thing Governor Cuomo can do to send a message to the citizens of the state – and their legislature – that the status quo is unacceptable.