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Brown-Stokes link stirs interest of FBI probers

Common Council members say a new letter from the FBI suggests the agency's investigation of City Hall is continuing and possibly expanding to include Mayor Byron W. Brown and his relationship with Leonard Stokes.

The FBI letter, dated Sept. 18, says Council President David A. Franczyk's request for an expanded investigation of Brown and Stokes is being sent to "the appropriate personnel who will review the information and take whatever action is deemed necessary."

"I think they're taking it very seriously," Franczyk said Tuesday.

The letter stops short of confirming or denying the FBI investigation, although the agency's interest in Stokes, a former college basketball star, is well known.

Last month, federal agents served subpoenas at City Hall, demanding reports, work plans, meeting correspondence, notes and other documents pertaining to One Sunset, a failed West Side restaurant owned by Stokes.

More recently, the FBI interviewed the police officer who was ordered to bring Stokes to see Brown after Stokes was apprehended in January 2007 for using a stolen handicapped parking permit.

Police sources said Stokes was going to be arrested but was instead released with just a parking summons after Brown interceded on his behalf.

"The letter tells me their investigation is ongoing," said Niagara Council Member David Rivera. "As far as the scope of the investigation, I don't know what it is."

Like Rivera, Franczyk thinks the letter is proof that the investigation into One Sunset is continuing. He also wonders if it may be widening to include Brown's relationship with Stokes and the incident involving the stolen handicapped permit.

A number of Council members speculated privately that the FBI is probably not interested in the permit allegations but may be looking into what it reveals about Brown's relationship with Stokes.

The question, they speculated, is whether that relationship influenced the city's handling of One Sunset.

Brown spokesman Peter Cutler said he was unaware of the letter but declined comment on its contents or the Council's interpretation of it.

The allegation that Stokes insisted on being taken to the mayor's office after being handcuffed and placed in the back of a squad car when the permit was discovered came from three sources who spoke to The Buffalo News.

Those same three sources said Stokes was allowed to leave a free man after meeting with the mayor.

"There should not be any political interference in police administration," Franczyk said Tuesday.

The incident involving the handicapped permit occurred about the time Stokes was talking to the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. about a restaurant he hoped to open near Gates Circle.

Brown is chairman of the agency, which eventually gave Stokes $80,000 in loans and a $30,000 grant. One Sunset operated for a year before closing, leaving behind unpaid state taxes and defaulted loans to the city and Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

A City Hall audit later confirmed the restaurant was "doomed for failure right from the start."

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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