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One Sunset is one mushrooming scandal

Michelle Barron is out of City Hall, the FBI is all over it, and the district attorney may be on the way in.

Folks, if the city's funding and management of One Sunset wasn't already a scandal, it is now.

The latest details are here and here.

Stokes, leonard The key findings of an investigation Pat Lakamp and I published three months ago were confirmed in an audit released Wednesday by City Comptroller Andrew SanFilippo,

In a nutshell: the city's main economic development agency lent money to Leonard Stokes (left) when it shouldn't have; Barron helped manage the joint; and the venture was "doomed to failure," in the words of the report.

The audit said $90,000 of the $160,000 in public financing is unaccounted for and nearly $39,000 in inventory and furniture is MIA.

"There was an ongoing infusion of public money," said SanFilippo. "Frankly, none of these loans should have been approved."

I'll give SanFilippo and City Auditor Darryl McPherson Dayrll McPherson credit: They did a thorough job and dug up improprieties beyond what Pat and I uncovered. (Of course, he had powers at their disposal we didn't.)

For example, the audit report noted that Stokes' signature appeared to be forged on several documents, including a liquor license. The handwriting on that application looked like Barron's, the audit said.

Then there were questionable payments, including $500 to Barron and $230 to an account controlled by Barron and her mother.

Stokes refused to provide documents to back up his claim that he invested $79,000 in the business.

Moreover, the report said, Stokes at one point had decided to stop seeking city financing only to be talked out of that decision by - get this - BERC officials.

The audit also found Barron's shenanigans extended beyond steering money to the business and helping to manage it. Once she knew people were on to her, the audit said Barron went into the city's e-mail system and tried to delete incriminating e-mails. But the horse was out of the barn -- we had obtained copies of many of the e-mails, which made their way into our story.

Barron was fired Wednesday from her job as BERC's vice president for neighborhood development for what Dennis Penman, the agency's new president, termed "significant violations of personnel policies"

The comptroller wants to meet with Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita Jr., who already is investigating the financial dealing of Ellicott Common Council Member Brian Davis, including a check he bounced to cover one month's rent at One Sunset.

And the FBI yesterday issued subpoenas for a wide range of records related to the restaurant deal.

Folks, there's blood in the water.

There are lots of questions to be answered in the months ahead, including the degree to which Mayor Bryon Brown was involved. The audit didn't find any smoking guns, but it's still early in the game.

Let me start by posing one simple question that you readers can help answer.

What kind of "gate" should we call this?  


City Hall | Economic Development
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