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It helps to have the mayor's cell phone number

It turns out that Leonard Stokes did benefit from Byron Brown's intervention after the soon-to-crash-and-burn-with-taxpayer-money restaurateur got picked up using a stolen handicapped parking permit back in January 2007.

Sue Schulman had an eye-opening story in Sunday's paper that found:

Buffalo police officers had intended to arrest and charge an unrepentant Leonard Stokes with criminal possession of stolen property before Mayor Byron W. Brown became involved in the case two years ago, according to legal sources who talked to The Buffalo News.

Other motorists caught using stolen handicapped parking permits have been embarrassed and cooperated with police, sources said, and they typically were given a summons.

But Stokes was not embarrassed -- he told police he wanted the handicapped tag because, as a basketball star, he's not accustomed to having to walk long distances from his car -- and boasted of his connections to City Hall while using his cell phone to call the mayor, sources said.

I was intrigued by another set of facts found deeper in the story. The stolen permits were being hustled outside Gigi's restaurant by Alfonso "Butch" Harvin, whose mother owns the establishment. Harvin, who was a city employee at the time the permits disappeared, was charged in their theft and later sentenced to probation. 

But wait, there's more.

Gigi's underwent $190,000 in renovations a couple of years ago financed in part by -- you guessed it, the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. You know, the folks who brought us One Sunset.

Only in the case of Gigi's, no loans were involved. It was all grants. A total of $96,738, all since Brown took office.

There might have been more city money involved, but I can't say for sure because the Brown administration still hasn't honored a Freedom of Information request from The News that would allow us to look that up and inform our readers.

Hawaii 5-0

There's nothing necessarily wrong with the grants. But the fact the city helped out the restaurant owner, whose place is an East Side hot spot, only to have her kid use it as a staging ground for selling stolen city property, is delicious in the context of the larger story, don't you think?

It also makes me wonder what exactly was said between Brown and Stokes when the police delivered Stokes to the mayor's office.

Keep in mind, we now now know the cops were prepared to "Book him, Danno."

Brown thinks his victory in the mayoral primary last week makes all this a moot issue. After his win he declared: "People didn't care about that. The voters have spoken. That was a non-issue, as I've said all along."

I don't know about that. Last I heard, the FBI was still sniffing around. Along with several other law enforcement agencies looking at assorted actions of the Brown administration

Then there's lessons that can be drawn from history. A little caper called Watergate. I think the sequence of events was crime, coverup, re-election and resignation.

That's not to say Brown's involvement in the Stokes affair was necessarily criminal. But it is to say that winning an election doesn't make everything go away. Nor should it.

The reality is that there's a lot the public still doesn't know about what went on in the mayor's office that day.

What we do know is that Brown won't talk about it.

Nor will Deputy Police Commissioner Dan Derenda, who had Stokes sent to City Hall.

Stokes isn't talking either.

A police officer with knowledge has been prohibited from talking.

This effort to "disappear" the event can't help but raise suspicions that Brown and Co. have something to hide. There's too much of what appears to be a coordinated effort to keep people quiet.

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City Hall | One Sunset
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