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Casey added as defendant in lawsuit by developer ; Cleveland plaintiff alleges 'pay-to-play'

Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey has been added as a defendant in a Cleveland developer's lawsuit accusing several city officials in an alleged "pay-to-play" scheme.

Casey's name goes on the list of defendants along with the City of Buffalo, Mayor Byron W. Brown, Common Council Member Demone A. Smith of the Masten District, the Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse and Stenhouse's Jeremiah Partnership, according to papers filed in federal court last week.

In June, NRP Corp. of Cleveland filed a suit seeking $1.4 million in damages in federal court, accusing Brown and Smith of corruption and racketeering in connection with an alleged conspiracy to require NRP give a mayoral supporter a job in the project.

The company's lawsuit alleges that Brown and Smith required NRP give work on a project to build 50 rental houses to Stenhouse, a Brown supporter, or a group associated with Stenhouse.

The project was quashed after NRP chose a different firm to assist with the work, the lawsuit alleges.

On a related note, departing Council President David A. Franczyk wants to know more about Brown's legal defense against the accusations of racketeering and corruption.

Franczyk introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on Brown to release documents related to the work of the attorney, Terrence M. Connors, hired to defend him in a suit brought by the Cleveland developer.

Franczyk, who is part of a departing Council majority seen as unaligned with Brown, wants a copy of Connors' retainer, along with copies of any bills to date.

The resolution also calls for the city's Law Department to report on the process used in the mayor's hiring of Connors, as well as to give lawmakers an update on the status of the case and the time and resources the city is dedicating to the case.

Franczyk told The Buffalo News that when there are accusations of corruption, it's important to have the information.

"I think questions of public corruption are very, very serious," Franczyk said, adding that he hopes the accused parties are innocent.

Brown and Connors have denied the accusations against the mayor, and Stenhouse's attorney also has denied the accusations against his client.

Tuesday, Smith said NRP, in its lawsuit, attempts to make what happened out to be illegal, when it wasn't.

Smith is being defended by the Law Department.

While Franczyk has a right to the information, Smith said, he sees the resolution as a "last-ditch effort" of a departing Council president who had said he wasn't going to just give up the leadership post.

Franczyk has had months to ask for the information, and this is coming up only because Franczyk will be replaced as Council president by Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana next week, Smith said.

Smith is one of several lawmakers in line to become the new majority leader, a move Franczyk has questioned, in part because of the lawsuit.

Smith has countered, saying that anyone can be subject to a lawsuit.

A request to comment from the Mayor's Office was referred to Connors.

"A resolution wasn't necessary," Connors said when asked about Franczyk's resolution. "A simple phone call would suffice."

The parties have told U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny that attempts to use a mediator to resolve the lawsuit have been unsuccessful.

There have been three mediation sessions, and although the case has not been settled, mediation will continue at the request of the parties, according to court papers.

Tuesday, the Council referred Franczyk's resolution to the Legislation Committee and the Corporation Counsel's Office.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com