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It Came From Cleveland: The NRP Affair Resurfaces

When the persistent, rumor-fed monster that is the NRP Development scandal first raised its scaley head from the oily waters of City Hall, we heard an interesting story: that the Cleveland-based CEO of the company—whose $12 million East Side housing project was suddenly spiked by Mayor Byron Brown, allegedly because NRP refused to award a minority hiring consultancy contract to the Reverend Richard A. Stenhouse, a Brown ally—had called the mayor, person-to-person, for a post-mortem on how the once heralded project had fallen apart.

And recorded the conversation. And consulted with the FBI on the matter.

In June 2011, NRP filed a civil claim against Brown, the City of Buffalo, Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, Stenhouse and his development partnership, Masten District Councilman Demone Smith, and a host of John and Jane Does, accusing the defendants of breach of contract and racketeering. The complaint, filed in federal court, included three direct quotes from Brown:

50. During the course of these events and in making the illegal demand, Brown said: “If you do not hire the right company [i.e. Stenhouse and/or the Jeremiah Partnership], you do not have my support for the Project.”

51. Brown also said: “Make Stenhouse happy or the deal will not go through” and further stated that he was “sick of seeing those fucking white developers on the East Side with no black faces represented.”

52. After the Development Team selected the UB Team instead of Stenhouse, Brown said: “I told you what you had to do and you hired the wrong company.”

We noted at the time that few lawyers would use quotation marks in a complaint unless they had evidence to justify them to present in court. In other words, the use of direct quotes seemed to reinforce the rumor that there existed emails or audio recordings of conversations between Brown and someone at NRP.

Since that suit was filed, the beast, or rumor of the beast, has surfaced from time to time: Stenhouse bought his way off the list of defendants; the possibility of an out-of-court settlement, which would have to be approved by the Common Council, became an issue in filling the vacancy in the Council’s South District seat; US District Judge William M. Skretny dismissed part of the suit but called the racketeering charge “plausible” and allowed the rest of the case to proceed.

This weekend brought another sighting of the beast: A number of sources came to us with a story said to have originated with a member of law enforcement, claiming that there exists an audio recording of a conversation between Brown and someone from NRP, and that it is being acted upon by a law enforcement agency.

This rumor came to us just a day before news broke that the US District Judge Richard J. Arcara postponed the sentencing of Tim Wanamaker, the city’s former strategic planning director, who pled guilty to charging about $30,000 of personal expenses to a city credit card. The federal prosecutor offered Wanamaker leniency, cutting a possible 12-month jail sentence to six months, in exchange for Wanamaker’s testimony on how the city has misused federal funds, especially housing and anti-poverty funds. Before agreeing to the prosectour’s request, Arcara wanted to know what exactly Wanamaker had offered to justify leniency.

Wanamaker was still diretor of strategic planning when NRP and the city initiated the housing project, which comprised 50 new housing units in the Masten Park and Cold Springs neighborhood, on lots selected by the city. Wanamaker left in 2008 to become city administrator for Inglewood, California, where he stayed until 2010. In a memorandum Wanamaker’s lawyers filed with Arcara before sentencing, Wanamaker reveals that after pleading guilty to stealing government funds, he lost his most recent government job as deputy director of adminstration for Alexandria, Virginia, and has worked stocking shelves for K-Mart at $8.75 per hour and as an online salesman with the Malloy Auto Group.

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