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FBI probe into city permits, inspections may widen

The FBI might be expanding the scope of its probe into city permits and inspections practices, The Buffalo News has learned.

A top city official confirmed Wednesday night that federal investigators have made recent inquiries about issues unrelated to projects involving developer Rocco R. Termini. Last month, the FBI subpoenaed city records pertaining to all Termini projects dating back to Jan. 1, 2006.

"[The FBI] is now asking questions that go beyond the Termini projects," said Richard M. Tobe, commissioner of economic development, permit and inspection services, who declined to elaborate.

Tuesday, Tobe signed a formal complaint with the Police Department indicating that six files for construction projects remained missing from an inspections department office on the third floor of City Hall. The files mostly cover rehabilitation projects, but none of them involve Termini's redevelopment efforts.

Termini, meanwhile, met with a city investigatory panel for about two hours Wednesday to discuss the controversy over his rehabilitation of the Webb Building on Pearl Street, where a construction worker fell to his death March 20.

Termini declined to answer questions as he entered the closed-door meeting. Also participating in the session were David Burke, president of Burke Builders, the general contractor for the reconstruction project, and several employees and attorneys for the development companies.

Later in the day, investigators interviewed several city inspections officials.

The four-member review panel has been interviewing various people over the past week to try to determine whether permit and inspections policies were properly followed at the Webb Building.

Mayor Byron W. Brown appointed the investigatory team shortly after allegations surfaced that Termini may have received favorable treatment from the Brown administration. Termini was a major financial contributor to Brown's 2005 mayoral campaign.

Panel members declined to disclose what was discussed during Wednesday's daylong session.

One area under investigation involves a Feb. 23 dispute between Termini and a city inspector at the construction site. The inspector claimed First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey told police not to enforce a stop-work order at the Webb Building.

Casey disputes the claim, noting that the inspector never even issued a written order. Two police officers backed up Casey's version of events, claiming the deputy mayor merely told parties to come to City Hall to resolve the dispute with inspections officials.

The review panel, headed by private attorney Richard Griffin, plans to issue a final report by the end of the month. The panel also 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.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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