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Officer denies Casey interfered at Webb Tells investigators she called Brown aide from site of project

A Buffalo police officer told an investigatory panel Friday that First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey did not instruct officers to ignore a stop-work order at a downtown renovation project.

Officer Mary May met behind closed doors with a panel appointed by Mayor Byron W. Brown to look into whether permit and inspection policies were followed on the Webb Building rehabilitation project.

The FBI, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Erie County district attorney also have launched investigations.

Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson previously had paraphrased a written statement that May filed. Gipson said the officer telephoned Casey from the construction site on Feb. 23 during a dispute between project developer Rocco Termini and a building inspector, and that May said Casey told all parties to come to City Hall to resolve the matter.

May spoke briefly with The Buffalo News after she met with the panel. The officer said she stood by the facts contained in the internal report, a document the Police Department has declined to release.

Does this mean May told the panel Casey never instructed officers to allow work to continue at the site despite the objections of a building inspector?

"That would be correct," May responded.

Officer Darryl Jones, who also was at the construction site that day, met with the review panel earlier Friday. He declined to comment. However, a panel member indicated that Jones' account was very similar to May's recollections.

At issue is whether the mayor's administration may have shown favoritism toward Termini, a major financial contributor to Brown's 2005 mayoral campaign.

Why would a police officer call the mayor's office in the first place over a dispute at a construction site? Gipson addressed the issue last month, saying Termini had threatened to call the deputy mayor. The officer called Termini's bluff, Gipson said.

Both Casey and Brown have insisted there is nothing improper with developers asking the mayor's office to help unsnarl red tape, but they have steadfastly denied that their office interferes with decisions made by building inspectors.

The Webb Building project vaulted into the spotlight shortly after a
construction worker at the Webb Building fell to his death. A month earlier, a city inspector had tried to shut down the project because he felt crews were doing work that went beyond the scope of its city permit.

Brown appointed a four-member panel to determine whether permit and inspection policies were followed on the Webb Building project. Attorney Richard Griffin chairs a group that includes Sister Denise Roche, president of D'Youville College; LaVonne Ansari, chief executive officer of the Community Health Center of Buffalo; and North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

The review team is expected to issue its findings late this month.

Meanwhile, a missing-files mystery continued Friday in the city's permit and inspections unit. Commissioner Richard M. Tobe said six files and a pad containing an inspector's field notes had yet to be returned.

A police detective met Thursday with office employees and warned them that a criminal probe would begin Tuesday if the files aren't recovered.

None of the missing documents involve any of Termini's development projects. All of those files were sent to the FBI last month after questions surfaced about the city's handling of the Webb Building project.

The missing files include handwritten field inspection notes on rehabilitation projects and at least one new construction project. A few of the rehabilitation projects are "fairly significant" in scope, Tobe said.

Because there are no duplicate copies of the field notes, Tobe underscored the importance of recovering them. He would not speculate on what might have spurred someone to take the files. City officials doubt that sloppy office procedures account for the missing documents.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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