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Buffalo Urban League files court papers to try to clear its name

The Buffalo Urban League filed court papers this week in what it describes as an ongoing effort to clear its name following public accusations of fraud by Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw.

Buffalo Urban League officials on Tuesday said they filed documents on Monday in Erie County Court, a precursor to a potential lawsuit.

In December, Mychajliw described the conclusions of a report on the Buffalo Urban League’s $1 million contract with the county this way: “At best, it’s gross mismanagement. At worst, it’s outright fraud.”

The Urban League is not looking for monetary damages, but rather “wants to set the record straight. It wants to correct the record,” attorney Kenneth W. Africano said during a news conference outside the organization’s Genesee Street offices.

Buffalo Urban League officials said they want “stricken from the record” a report from the comptroller’s office that concluded the organization overbilled the county by tens of thousands of dollars, failed to properly train its staff, failed to protect children’s privacy in digital records or honor Department of Social Services reporting requirements.

The organization also wants Mychajliw to retract and take down a statement about the matter on his website.

“If the comptroller does that voluntarily, we won’t need to file the Article 78 proceeding,” Africano said. The filing of the lawsuit would have to be done on April 7, he said.

The Urban League has several contracts with the county to provide child welfare and preventative services.

During a 25-minute press conference Tuesday, Buffalo Urban League President Brenda McDuffie said her organization’s reputation has been damaged by Mychajliw’s statements and his office’s report.

“It is unconscionable that he would use the power of his office to produce a report and then make public statements that are not aligned with the report,” McDuffie said.

The comptroller’s office’s review concluded the Urban League overcharged the county about $40,000.

The agency’s own review, in collaboration with the Department of Social Services, found that a refund to the county of $30,576 was warranted due to a failure to follow procedures in some areas.

But agency officials said they believe that would have been found during their annual process of reconciling their books, which hadn’t yet been done at the time of the report.

They also alleged the comptroller’s office did not follow proper accounting standards and challenged the veracity of claims made by whistleblowers, which led to the comptroller’s review.

Urban League Board member James W. Pitts said the report “gives a false impression” of the organization. He also had a message for Mychajliw.

“You’re hurting the people who have the greatest need and who depend upon the league for services,” Pitts said.

Bryan Fiume, deputy associate comptroller and Mychajliw’s chief of staff, said his office had not yet received a copy of the notice of claim as of early Tuesday afternoon and would not comment on the specific legal claims.

In a written statement, the office said, in part, “The comptroller stands firmly behind the work of our Division of Audit and Control and will not under any circumstances be withdrawing our review of the Buffalo Urban League’s contract with the county for providing preventive services.