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Sources say Stokes boasted to police

Buffalo police officers had intended to arrest and charge an unrepentant Leonard Stokes with criminal possession of stolen property before Mayor Byron W. Brown became involved in the case two years ago, according to legal sources who talked to The Buffalo News.

Other motorists caught using stolen handicapped parking permits were embarrassed and cooperated with police, sources said, and they typically were given a summons.

But Stokes was not embarrassed -- he told police he wanted the handicapped tag because, as a basketball star, he's not accustomed to having to walk long distances from his car -- and boasted of his connections to City Hall while using his cell phone to call the mayor, sources said.

That is part of the more complete picture emerging of the day Stokes was caught with a stolen handicapped parking permit.

Police already had some information about handicapped parking permits being sold on the street at the time Stokes was picked up, and officers suspected information Stokes gave them about where he had purchased the tag was false, sources told The News.

Given that and Stokes' attitude, police felt it was appropriate to file charges against Stokes and not just let him off with a parking summons, law enforcement sources said.

Deputy Commissioner Daniel Derenda, when first told that Stokes invoked the mayor's name -- and that Stokes used his cell phone to call the mayor and leave a message for him -- initially gave officers the go-ahead to arrest Stokes, the sources said.

"Lock him up," Derenda reportedly told police.

About three minutes later, sources said, Derenda called the officers back to say: "There's been a change of plans."

Derenda told an officer to drop Stokes off at the mayor's office, then leave him there, sources said.

Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for Brown, declined to comment on the additional details emerging.

"The only thing I would say is the mayor has called for an investigation and has said this is dirty politics," Cutler said.

And Brown, following his election victory Tuesday, refused to discuss what role he may have played in the Stokes case, as he has for the past two weeks.

"It's nonsense. It's behind me. We're moving forward to build this city," the mayor said. "People didn't care about that. The voters have spoken. That was a non-issue, as I've said all along."

Police spokesman Michael DeGeorge also declined to comment, saying the department does not respond to unnamed sources.

DeGeorge also said the department will not give permission for one of the officers involved in the Stokes case to talk to The News.

The News contacted Detective Sgt. Thomas Donovan, the officer who was told to take Stokes to the mayor's office. Donovan said he would like to talk, but must first get department permission. DeGeorge said Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson refused to give Donovan permission to talk to The News because the case is the subject of ongoing investigation.

A week after refusing to discuss allegations that he interceded on behalf of Stokes, Brown said that Stokes was ticketed and fined by the city Parking Violations Bureau on Jan. 8, 2007. Stokes was one of 15 people caught with the stolen handicapped tags, and each was treated the same way -- all got ticketed and fined by the parking bureau, Brown and Cutler said. All 15 were questioned by police, and none was criminally charged, the Brown administration also said. Stokes, they said, did not get any special treatment.

As long as the motorists questioned about their stolen permits were cooperative, and remorseful, which most were, they were allowed to get off with just a parking summons, police sources said.

But given the way Stokes acted, sources said, police were in the process of arresting him.

When in police custody, sources said, Stokes told police he wanted to talk to Brown, and asked police if he could call the mayor. Stokes then pulled out his cell phone, dialed Brown's number, and left a message when the mayor didn't answer, sources said. That is when officers contacted Derenda to tell the deputy commissioner about Stokes' activities.

When questioned by police, Stokes said he bought the stolen handicapped parking tag at the Galleria Mall in Cheektowaga. He said he paid $50, according to police sources.

Police didn't believe him. Police had previous information that the handicapped tickets were being sold near Gigi's restaurant on East Ferry Street, possibly by a city employee, Alfonso "Butch" Harvin, whose mother owns Gigi's.

A day after Stokes was picked up, Harvin was arrested for stealing some 600 handicapped permits from City Hall, then selling them.

Harvin was selling the handicapped permits from his streets department truck, and also at Gigi's, according to witness statements contained in court papers. Witnesses said Harvin was selling the permits for $10 to $20 each.

Harvin was charged with grand larceny and burglary. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges of petty larceny and criminal trespass, and was sentenced to three years of probation.

e-mail: sschulman@buffnews.com

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