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Stokes ticketed, fined in '07, official says Parking agency lists illegal use of sticker

The Brown administration, still refusing to discuss Leonard Stokes' being brought to the mayor's office after having been picked up with a stolen handicapped parking sticker, said Thursday that Stokes was given a parking ticket and fined at the time of the 2007 incident.

Mayor Byron W. Brown learned of the ticketing Thursday morning, after the city's Parking Violations Bureau ran a report showing Stokes' name among 15 people ticketed for possessing stolen handicapped parking tags, according to Parking Enforcement Director Leonard G. Sciolino.

City officials said the 15 cases were handled the same -- each received $215 in fines and fees and was interviewed by police. Stokes, however, was apparently the only one who requested, and was brought, to the mayor's office by police officers.

Brown was not available Thursday to discuss the issue with The Buffalo News. His spokesman, Peter K. Cutler, referred questions to Sciolino.

Also Thursday, it was learned that:

*Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda was the high-ranking officer who directed officers to bring Stokes to meet with Brown after Stokes was caught with a stolen handicapped tag, according to soures familiar with the case.

*Stokes, whose City Hall financing for his now-closed One Sunset restaurant led to problems for the Brown administration, has had a series of dealings with police in recent years, including a charge that brought him to court earlier this week.

*Stokes told police he purchased the illegal handicapped parking sticker at the Walden Galleria for $50 in June 2006, about seven months before he was picked up with the stolen tag.

Police sources previously had told The News that Stokes was picked up with an illegal parking tag in the summer of 2007, but city officials said the incident actually occurred in January 2007.

The city's parking enforcement crews noticed the stolen handicapped parking tag inside Stokes' 2006 Lincoln passenger car Jan. 8, 2007, four days after city officials learned that 667 tags had been stolen from City Hall.

It was the first stolen parking tag that had been recovered since the thefts were detected, parking officials said.

The Parking Violations Bureau placed a ticket on the car's windshield, and Sciolino was called to the scene, in front of Ellicott Square downtown. Police also were called.

"When the police arrived, I left the scene," Sciolino said.

Police sources have told The News that the officers handcuffed Stokes and brought him to Police Headquarters, where he gave a statement regarding the stolen tag. Stokes told police that he and a couple of friends were at the Galleria in June 2006, when they ran into a man trying to sell the tags for $150 each, according to a police source. Stokes told police he and his friends convinced the man to sell the tags for $50 each, the sources said.

While in police custody, Stokes insisted on talking with the mayor, and one of the officers contacted Derenda, the deputy chief, to inform him of what Stokes was saying, sources told The News. Initially, Derenda told the officers to ignore Stokes' request, but the deputy commissioner called the officers back and told them to take Stokes to the mayor, sources said.

Stokes was taken to the mayor and was released without being charged, according to the sources. Brown has said he did not tell police to release Stokes.

None of the 14 other people subsequently ticketed for possessing stolen handicapped tags was arrested, city officials said.

"All 15 were questioned. I don't believe any were arrested," said police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge.

In this type of investigation, Sciolino said, police typically interview people -- rather than arrest them -- to glean information that could lead to the person or persons who are responsible for the theft. "When this happens, they obviously want to catch the big guy," he said.

On Jan. 9, 2007, a day after Stokes was picked up, police arrested a City Hall laborer, Alfonzo Harvin, who was charged with stealing the 667 handicapped parking tags from City Hall over a seven-month period.

DeGeorge said the arrest resulted from cooperation between police and the Parking Violations Bureau.

DeGeorge said Stokes gave police information that helped officers find another individual in possession of a handicapped sticker. But DeGeorge said he didn't know whether Stokes gave police any information that led to Harvin's arrest.

DeGeorge also declined to comment on reports that Derenda had directed the police officers to bring Stokes to Brown's office. "The department," he said, "does not respond to unnamed sources."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com and sschulman@buffnews.com