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Paladino on the Warpath

On July 8, local developer, lawyer, and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino filed a letter with US Attorney for the Western District of New York, Hon. William Hochul regarding the Buffalo Public Schools. Superintendent James Williams, Deputy Superintendent Folasade Oladele (aka Beverly McElroy-Johnson), Counsel Brendan Kelleher, Esq, Lead Community Superintendent Mark Frazier, School Board member Florence Johnson, and “other John and Jane Does” are in his crosshairs.

In the nine-page letter, Paladino questions a number of issues, including the payment of extra public money to Oladele upon her decision to leave the deputy superintendent’s job—a bonus that was not included in her original contract. He also alleges that school board counsel Brendan Kelleher advised the board to approve her buyout—in collusion with Superintendent Williams and board member Johnson.

From there, his argument builds to focus on the Buffalo Public Schools Foundation, and charges of “pay-to-play” schemes with vendors to the district. If those charges sound familiar, it may be because Artvoice wrote about the inappropriate practice in February, 2008. You can refresh your memory at this link: ( That story also appears as “Exhibit E” in Paladino’s complaint to the US Attorney.

This secretive foundation, which typically operates beyond the reach of the press and public, slipped up in 2008 when it provided to Artvoice a detailed 2006 990 tax form that enumerated the number of donors that also happened to do business with the public schools. At the time, the list of donor/vendors read like this:

Buffalo Coca Cola Bottling, Inc.—$67,500*

Laidlaw Educational Services—$50,000*

Johnson Controls—$20,000*


Sopris West Inc., Cambium Learning—$10,000*

The Administrative Assistants LTD.—$10,000*

Harcourt Inc.—$10,000*




The Princeton Review—$5,000*

Typically, such a detailed breakdown of contributors is kept hidden from the public by private foundations—which is one of the reasons they are such popular vehicles for handling money in Western New York and elsewhere. In the case of the Buffalo Public Schools Foundation, money received from vendors is then used to finance school board retreats and travel, for example.

Paladino makes bold claims in his letter, culminating that there have been violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—commonly known as the RICO Act—a term generally used when talking about cases involving the Mafia and the like.

Now that these issues have been put on Hochul’s desk, the US Attorney for the Western District of New York can decide whether or not they have any merit. Unlike the press, or even a member of the public who might be “mad as hell” but unable to obtain access to things like executive sessions of public meetings or financial records of private not-for-profit outfits created to receive money on behalf of public schools—a US Attorney can do things like subpoena people to see what they might know, under oath. The ball is in his court.

Or, the complaint could sit there unanswered until even the memory of it quietly fades away.

-buck quigley

View Carl Paladino’s July 8 letter to Hon. William Hochul, US Attorney for the Western District of New York, regarding Buffalo Public Schools, complete with attached exhibits here, on AV Daily.

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