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An Erie County grand jury will begin reviewing evidence within two weeks involving a possible embezzlement from Buffalo's primary development agency, sources confirmed Monday.

The attorney for Howard Patton, the agency's former corporate accountant, was informed by an assistant district attorney that a felony case will be presented to grand jurors. Attorney John K. Jordan said prosecutors would not elaborate on the allegations except to state that the case involves non-violent offenses that would be categorized as D felony crimes.

Officials from the agency, the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., informed prosecutors of possible employee theft after a local bank contacted them to report suspicious check-writing activity. Sources close to the investigation said the amount of missing funds could exceed $10,000.

While Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark declined Monday to discuss specifics, he confirmed that a grand jury will begin hearing evidence soon, possibly within a week.

Patton, 27, was fired from his post Nov. 13. He is currently jailed on unrelated rape, weapons possession and other charges in connection with incidents that occurred earlier this year.

Patton was hired by the BERC in March after being referred by a temporary help agency. He was appointed to a permanent accounting post in September.

BERC President Alan H. DeLisle said agency staffers were unaware of Patton's legal problems, even though an April 28 article appeared in The Buffalo News reporting that police said Patton and another suspect had been arrested and charged with kidnapping and sodomizing a woman. DeLisle said Patton was given a permanent job based on his work performance and his resume.

Officials are awaiting the receipt of bank documents in the ongoing investigation. BERC officials have also launched an internal review of agency books.

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