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FBI investigates assessor on West Seneca tax breaks

A man who has been West Seneca's town assessor since 1970 is under investigation by FBI agents who are trying to determine whether there is anything illegal about the relationship between him and developers who have been given big tax breaks.

Edward J. Hummel, 56, also is under investigation by an attorney hired by the Town Board.

While FBI agents have been looking into his dealings with developers, Hummel has been on sick leave for at least two months, town officials said.

Hummel, who has been active in town politics since the 1960s and was first appointed assessor at age 22, could not be reached to comment Monday.

In recent weeks, the FBI has been examining computer files and documents that agents seized from his office in Town Hall.

Agents are investigating allegations that millions of dollars worth of commercial properties have been given low assessments or improper tax exemptions by Hummel, authorities said.

If and when that occurs, it means that other homeowners and commercial property owners have to make up the difference by paying higher taxes.

Town officials have reached no conclusions yet but are concerned about the allegations, said Town Attorney Timothy J. Greenan. Greenan said Buffalo attorney Gerald J. Whalen has been hired by the town to conduct an independent investigation and a hearing. Whelan is discussing his findings with the FBI.

"There will be a hearing to determine whether the Town Board should ask New York State to remove (Hummel) from office," Greenan said Monday.

The FBI's Buffalo spokesman, Paul M. Moskal, declined to comment on Hummel but did confirm that agents recently went to Town Hall with a subpoena and obtained "a number of town records."

"(Agents) were acting as officers for the court, obtaining these records," Moskal said.

Whalen has been looking into tax exemptions granted by Hummel on two nonresidential properties and the apparent underassessments of about 10 other properties, Greenan said.

Authorities said the FBI also is looking into tax breaks awarded by Hummel on those properties and others.

Town sources revealed Monday that one of the properties under investigation is a strip plaza at Southwestern Boulevard and Angle Road. The property is valued at $150,000, and in recent years, Hummel has given it property exemptions from county taxes and school taxes, authorities said.

According to property records, the property is owned by SW-Angle Associates LLC, 570 Delaware Ave., Buffalo. SW-Angle's address is the same address as Benderson Development Co., one of the region's largest development firms.

"The Town Board is especially upset about the exemptions on that property and wants to know why they were granted," said a town official.

Benderson spokesman Eric Recoon said a call he received from a reporter Monday was "the first time this has been brought to our attention." He said he needs to look into the situation further.

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