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Questions remain in Pasquantino case

   We here at The Buffalo News have been puzzled by the decision of the Niagara Falls School Board to allow Jeffrey B. Pasquantino to resign since it was made in January.

   As details continue to emerge about Pasquantino's double-dipping work days during several of his 28 years on the job, we believe that our early concerns -- and considerable reporting -- were warranted.

   Freelance writer Caitlin Murray was covering the district when the Pasquantino story broke, and was key in developing information that led to the first major story on the case last Sunday in The News.

   A private investigators' report was the basis of Pasquantino's departure. The School Board voted Jan. 14 to accept his resignation.

   But Murray quickly learned that the investigative report contained information damaging enough to suggest it should have cost the school district maintenance worker his job, and maybe more.

   We had several big questions.

   Why let a worker quit when it seemed clear there was ample evidence to fire him? Wouldn't firing Pasquantino send a much stronger message to him, other employees and the public?

   Pasquantino didn't operate in a vacuum. Where were his supervisors when he was clocked in, but off the job? Why didn't they catch him?

   Who else was aware of what was going on?

   Pasquantino was a union president who would have been in contact with district leaders. Was it possible he did any of his small contracting work during school hours at their homes?

   We immediately set about trying to get a copy of the PROBE investigative report, which by this time we knew also was in the hands of Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante, of Niagara Falls. (Violante said in a one-sentence statement he ended his investigation when Pasquantino quit.)

   Murray continued to work her sources and tried to urge James A. Schiro, the city resident who commissioned the investigative report, to give us a copy. He would not, expressing concern that it could negatively impact the job of a family member who works in the district.

   So News Niagara Reporter Aaron Besecker filed requests with the school district and the DA's office under the federal Freedom of Information Law seeking a copy of the report.

   The school district and DA's office refused the first request, but Besecker filed appeals. On April 13, the Niagara County Attorney's office provided us with a copy that blacked out most, but not all, of the addresses where Pasquantino was seen working.

   Using that report, we were able to determine that Cataract Elementary School Principal Maria Chille-Zafuto was among those who had work done on her house. Besecker visited the school in the days before last weekend's story, and Chille-Zafuto told her at least a dozen other school officials had work done, too.

   Besecker also has asked other top administrators during the last week and a half if Pasquantino did work on their properties. Former Superintendent Carmen A. Granto has told us yes, though he believes it all was on Pasquantino's days off or vacation time. Former President Robert J. Kazeangin Jr. and board member Don J. King are among those who have told us no.

   Excellent reporting by Besecker in the fall of 2008, following a scathing audit of district financing by the state comptroller's office, helped The News to break today's story on the Pasquantino matter. Under the FOI law, he gathered district payroll information for stories at that time.

   That story raises new questions about Pasquantino's salary and payments the district made to him during the same years when private investigators were following him, unbeknownst to Pasquantino or district officials.

   Caitlin Murray stopped freelancing for The News several weeks ago. We miss her, and are grateful for her work.

   Meanwhile, we will continue to dig for answers in the Pasquantino matter.

   And it seems there is a big question remaining for those in the law enforcement community.

   Did something illegal happen here, and, if it did, why hasn't more been done about it?

-- News Niagara Editor Scott Scanlon

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