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Stokes charged in confrontation

Leonard Stokes, whose failed restaurant venture triggered a major scandal that has engulfed City Hall, was arrested Wednesday on charges related to an altercation in January with the mother of their child.

The arrest marks the lastest in a string of arrests and other run-ins with authorities for Stokes, who recently was described by Mayor Byron W. Brown as a "young man with promise."

The most serious episode, previous to his arrest earlier this week, involved his being charged for menacing with a weapon on March 27, 2008, when Stokes was operating the One Sunset restaurant.

According to police records, a man told police that Stokes, 28, of Lemon Street, threatened him with a handgun at the Travel Lodge motel at Main and Dodge streets. Stokes, according to the arrest report, pulled a gun out of the center console of his car during an argument and pointed it at the man's face.

City Court records do not show a disposition of the Class A misdemeanor charge, suggesting the case either was not prosecuted or was dismissed and the records were sealed.

Stokes' most recent legal troubles involve a complaint filed by the owner of a Herman Street beauty shop on Jan. 29, five days after she said Stokes got physical with a woman who sources said is the mother of his child. The woman rents a chair at the beauty shop to service customers.

The complainant said Stokes "was physically on top of that woman, yelling, screaming, causing a commotion." The complainant said she yelled repeatedly at Stokes to "get off of her, get out," and he only relented when she began dialing 911.

The complainant in her statement to police asked for an order of protection to keep Stokes away from her business.

Authorities on Feb. 13 issued an arrest warrant for trespass -- considered a noncriminal violation, rather than a misdemeanor or felony -- but police did not serve the warrant. Instead, the district attorney's office contacted Stokes' attorney, Herbert Greenman, and Stokes then turned himself in.

On Wednesday, Greenman entered a not guilty plea on Stokes' behalf to the noncriminal trespass complaint.

Stokes has had additional legal problems. Last Nov. 18, the state Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Stokes' license for failure to pay child support, the latest in a series of actions the DMV has taken against him since 2001. The suspension was lifted in May.

The state also suspended his license on Jan. 22, 2007, as a scofflaw for failure to pay a fine. The DMV also suspended his auto registration four times -- in January and April 2003, July 2006 and March 2007 -- because his insurance had lapsed. Buffalo police pulled Stokes over in September 2006, during one of the periods his registration was suspended, and charged him with operating a car with a suspended registration and no insurance.

And, as previously reported, Stokes was detained by police in January 2007 after police said he was using a stolen handicapped parking permit. Stokes was issued a ticket and taken to police headquarters for questioning. Stokes insisted that he be allowed to talk to the mayor and was taken to Brown's office in City Hall under orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, sources told The Buffalo News.

Stokes subsequently paid $215 in fines and fees, including a towing charge. He also paid a $55 parking ticket that was outstanding from Oct. 2006.

The mayor's involvement in the latter situation, coupled with the city's investment in Stokes restaurant, has triggered investigations by the FBI and controversy that has come to dominate next week's Democratic primary for mayor between Brown and South Common Council Member Michael Kearns.

The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., which Brown heads, gave Stokes' restaurant $110,000 in loans and grants in 2007 and 2008. The agency's vice president also helped manage One Sunset. The Erie County Industrial Development agency, at BERC's urging, loaned Stokes another $50,000.

One Sunset operated from December 2007 to December 2008 and closed owing $235,000 in unpaid loans and debts. An audit by City Comptroller Andrew SanFillio said the loans should not have been made and that $90,000 in public funds and nearly $39,000 in equipment and furnishings can't be accounted for.

e-mail: jheaney@buffnews.com

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