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Seven Days: The Straight Dope From the Week That Was

Patronage at BHMA?

On Tuesday we learned that the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has hired a new “crime prevention specialist”: George E. Stokes—husband of Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, vice-chair of the Erie County Democratic Party, and uncle to basketball hero Leonard Stokes, one of the lead characters in the One Sunset boondoggle.

Asked about Stokes’s qualifications for the job, a source at BMHA tells us, “He’s in training.”

School board candidate Bryon McIntyre looks to clear the field.

School Board Elections Coming Soon

Buffalo School Board elections are just two weeks away, and on Tuesday candidates in the various districts and their champions filed challenges to their opponents’ nominating petitions in hopes of clearing the field.

In the West District, Board President Ralph Hernandez and challenger Philip Lomax are contesting the validity of each other’s signatures, and word is both challenges may succeed. If they knock each other off the ballot, the West District race will be a wide open write-in campaign.

In the North District, young Matthew Ricchiazzi, whose quick mind impressed many in last year’s mayoral race, is having his signatures challenged by another candidate, Jay “Microparks” McCarthy. I’m told Ricchiazzi’s petitions have problems and will be tossed, but that Ricchiazzi will appeal to the courts. Candidate Patricia Devis had trouble with her petitions when she ran for school board last go-round and may have trouble again. The fourth candidate in that race is Larry Scott. The North District seat is being vacated by Catherine Nugent Panepinto, who is pursuing a judgeship.

In the Central District, Buffalo fireman Bryon McIntyre is challenging the petitions of both incumbent Mary Ruth Kapsiak and fellow challenger Jim Williams. We haven’t seen Williams’s petitions, but the first page of Kapsiak’s submission to the Erie County Board of Elections comprised 25 names and addresses on Northampton and Michigan. All of them are written in the same handwriting.

You’d think that if you had a page of “signatures” all in exactly the same handwriting, you’d at least try to bury it in the middle of your sheaf of petitions, rather than flaunt it on the first page. (Perhaps this is a testament to the rigorous penmanship training delivered by the Buffalo Public Schools: absolute conformity of stroke.) The guy who signed the bottom of this page as witness to its validity is Carl Thompson, son of Grassroots operative Al Thompson, late of the Erie County Board of Elections. In addition to this obviously fraudulent page, McIntyre’s campaign charges that the petitions include signatures attributed to the supposed occupants of long-abandoned houses and to dead people, and that many pages were illegally witnessed by folks who are not citizens of Buffalo.

I hope Kapsiak didn’t pay these people.

Lou Petrucci is running unopposed in the South District. Incumbent Vivian Evans faces Theresa A. Harris-Tigg in the East, and incumbent Pamela D. Cahill faces Kinzer Pointer in Ferry.

A Bad Week For Pigeon and Parenti

On Friday, a CBS affiliate in New York City broke the story of a federal investigation into possible tax fraud and money-laundering that involves a company tied to State Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada through his son (also named Pedro), and a Niagara Falls company tied to Espada’s chief counsel, Steve Pigeon, the political operative who wooed Espada to caucus with Republicans last summer, resulting in the leadership coup that paralyzed Albany for weeks, and to Pigeon’s political partner and business associate Gary Parenti.

The feds are looking into payments from GDP Consulting Services, the Pigeon and Parenti firm, to A1-Multi Services in the Bronx, the mailing address for which is a building comprising some apartments and a cigar shop. WCBS-TV reported that the payments were for consulting help on issues ranging “from health care to establishing a national lottery in Puerto Rico.”

Pigeon denied any connection to GDP, saying he cut ties to the firm when he took the job as counsel to Espada last summer, leaving Parenti in charge. (Parenti’s father, whose accounting firm shares a mailing address with GDP, also denied any knowledge of the company’s doings, telling Buffalo News reporters to “ask Gary” about GDP.) But at the very least, GDP coordinated activities as recently as March with a company which Pigeon does still control: GSDP LLC, another consulting firm in which Pigeon is partners with Parenti. On March 9, GDP and GSDP each donated $9,600—$100 more than the maximum donation for a State Senate race—to the campaign fund of former State Senator Hiram Monserrate, who was running in a special election to regain the seat from which he’d been removed by his colleagues after a misdemeanor conviction for slashing his girlfriend’s face with a broken wineglass. (He lost.) Our bet: Dollars to donuts that Pigeon arranged both donations.

Pigeon has hired Manhattan attorney Robert G. Morvillo, whose former clients include Martha Stewart and AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, to represent him in the matter.

“Pigeon had tax issues 16 months ago, when I tried to go after him,” says Mark Sacha, the former Erie County deputy district attorney who was fired after publicly criticizing his bosses, former DA Frank Clark and current DA Frank Sedita, for failing to pursue the case he’d built against Pigeon for election law violations. Sacha is suing the DA’s office for firing him.

During his investigation, which evolved out of allegations of campaign finance shenanigans during Paul Clark’s 2007 campaign for county executive, Sacha says he uncovered evidence that Pigeon moved money among a network of campaign funds and consulting firms that seemed to contravene election law and possibly raise tax questions. Both Clark and Sedita, who have enjoyed Pigeon’s political and financial support, declined to pursue that evidence, claiming that the case against Pigeon was not sufficiently strong to justify the expense, that the DA’s resources were too stretched to pursue election law prosecutions, and, in Sedita’s case, that Pigeon enjoyed something he called “functional immunity” in the Clark investigation.

The tax fraud and money-laundering case that threatens to ensnare Pigeon now originates not with local investigators but with the IRS and the US Attorney’s office in New York City. “It shows that when the will is there to do the right thing, the laws and the tools are there to do it,” Sacha says. “It should have happened a long time ago, but Frank Clark and Frank Sedita were unwilling to prosecute a guy to whom they were politically obligated.”

A Worse Week for Espada

The allegations in New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s complaint against State Senator Pedro Espada are jaw-slackening: Cuomo claims Espada “has siphoned more than $14 million in excessive compensation and unwarranted benefits” out of Soundview Health Center in the Bronx, a not-for-profit health clinic Espada founded in 1978. According to the complaint, the senator used a company credit card for personal expenses, including vacations and meals ($450,000 in charges in less than four years); he used company money to pay campaign expenses, and pressed company employees into doing campaign work; he used Soundview’s money to pay $2,500 a month for a Bronx co-op apartment in order to establish residence in the district he represents in the State Senate. Espada’s primary residence is in Mamaroneck, in Westchester County, outside his district.

Espada has denied all of Cuomo’s allegations, claiming that the AG’s investigation is motivated by politics. But on Wednesday agents from the FBI, the IRS, and the AG’s office raided Soundview’s Bronx offices and carted away boxes of records. Cuomo’s complaint is a civil suit, but Cuomo said he would not be surprised if criminal charges followed.

ADAM-12, Do You Copy?

You’ve certainly heard by now about the CBS Evening News report on digital photocopier hard drives: CBS reporters purchased some used photocopiers out of a warehouse in New Jersey and removed their internal hard drives, which retain copies of every image ever scanned on the machines. (The hard drives for most photocopiers and scanners built since 2002 contain such hard drives.) One of the photocopiers, a Toshiba, had been leased by the City of Buffalo for the Buffalo Police Department, where it was used by the Sex Crimes and Narcotics units. CBS News discovered that the hard drive had not been erased when the city’s lease had expired and the machines were returned. In fact, the hard drive contained all kinds of sensitive information, according to CBS News: “…from the sex crimes unit there were detailed domestic violence complaints and a list of wanted sex offenders. On a second machine from the Buffalo Police Narcotics Unit we found a list of targets in a major drug raid.”

Other machines obtained by CBS News from the same New Jersey warehouse offered up private medical records, copies of pay stubs, employee addresses, and Social Security numbers.

The story, which aired on April 15, caused quite a stir in Buffalo’s City Hall. Mayor Byron Brown instructed the city’s law department to look into the terms of the leases with Toshiba Business Solutions, which rented the machines to the city, and to identify all the machines leased under that particular agreement. Council President Dave Franczyk wondered whether the vendor had informed the city that the machine contained these hard drives. The mayor’s spokesman, Peter Cutler, apparently told the Buffalo News on Wednesday that the city did not know: “Cutler reiterated the city’s position Tuesday that Buffalo officials had no knowledge that confidential information was being retained on the hard drives of the copiers.”

But two sources—both requesting anonymity, since no one in the Brown administration is allowed to speak to the press without express permission from the mayor’s office—have told Artvoice that the city should have known about the existence and function of the hard drives. These sources say that Toshiba Business Solutions offered to scrub the hard drives clean of data as part of the lease contract, for an additional fee. Whoever negotiated the contract for the city, the sources say, declined the scrubbing service and its additional cost.

Cutler would not comment on that allegation, saying he did not see any profit in addressing “innuendo.”

A sales representative at the local branch of Toshiba Business Solutions confirms that erasing the hard drive at the end of a lease is a service the company offers, for an additional charge.

Fundraiser of the Week

Our friends at the First Amendment Club are throwing an unusual fundraiser on Thursday, April 22, at the Polish Cadets Hall, at the corner for Grant and Amherst Streets. The party runs 5-10pm.

The worthy beneficiaries are the Black Rock/Riverside Little Leagues, which claim to have been stiffed of funding promised them by State Senator Antoine Thompson. The First Amendment Club hopes the event—$10 for all the pizza and beer you can consume—will raise enough money to keep the kids in uniforms and baseballs while they wait for the state money to materialize. Live music will be provided by noted up-and-comer David Nolf and his band, and there will be lots of prizes and games, including a customized version of pin the tail on the donkey. We leave it to you to imagine who will play the role of the donkey.

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