A fired accounts manager who claims he was made a "scapegoat" for financial problems at the Broadway Market intends to sue the East Side landmark, its former executive director and an Erie County legislator for $10 million.
Richard J. Cohen claims he is the victim of defamation, gross negligence and intentional infliction of harm.
The Broadway Market Management Corp., former executive director Rod Hensel and county Legislator Gregory Olma are named in a summons and notice that has been forwarded to the market's attorney. The city owns the 113-year-old facility at 999 Broadway.
The action stems from statements that allegedly were made by market managers after they fired Cohen a year ago on the heels of disclosures that the facility owed creditors more than $210,000.
Citing a "financial crisis" in a report to city officials, managers claimed that the bookkeeper allowed unpaid utility bills to mount without their knowledge. Cohen's attorney charged that efforts to blame the bookkeeper for the financial problems were "false and slanderous."
Both sides acknowledge the possibility that a settlement might be reached in the dispute. David Dale, chairman of the new board which was appointed in the aftermath of the financial crisis, said the matter has been referred to the market's insurance carrier. Dale said the facility's insurance policy might cover such a liability.
David J. Seeger, Cohen's attorney, claimed that as more facts surfaced in the controversy, they bolstered his client's position that he was not responsible for the market's deficit woes.
"I believe that it's clear now that Mr. Cohen was unfairly made a scapegoat," said Seeger.
In a letter to Brian Lewandowski, the attorney who represents the parties named in the summons, Seeger said his client is open to discussing a settlement. Lewandowski could not be reached to comment.
An audit released last April by Buffalo Comptroller Anthony R. Nanula blamed the Broadway Market Management Corp. for "poor financial management practices," claiming the board had been aware of delinquent electric bills as early as November 1998.
Dale said he hopes the latest development doesn't overshadow current efforts to try to revitalize the East Side landmark. They include extensive renovations and a new marketing campaign.