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News meets resistance in pursuit of data on Wanamaker

The Buffalo News has been seeking to review Timothy E. Wanamaker’s expenses since shortly after the city’s former economic-development czar pleaded guilty Nov. 30, 2011, to illegally using his Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. credit card for about $30,000 in personal expenses.

The News first filed a Freedom of Information Law request in January 2012 with the City of Buffalo, which said that it would forward the request to BERC. When BERC did not respond, The News filed another request directly with BERC in June 2012 and was told by Christopher A. Andreucci, a BERC attorney, that because the agency was in the process of being shut down, its staff was limited and he didn’t know how long it would take to provide the documents The News had requested.

In August 2012, Andreucci then told The News that other public agencies had previously requested the documents and that it was likely BERC no longer had the documents The News requested.

Andreucci did not specify which agencies, but Cheryl L. Stadel-Bevans, an FOI officer with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General, said a BERC attorney turned over copies – not originals – of Wanamaker expense documents to HUD.

Government agencies are required to retain records for specified time periods, said Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, so it is “inconceivable that they didn’t make copies before giving them to” the federal agencies.

Regardless, with the legal case against Wanamaker closed, BERC can request that its records be returned, Freeman said.

“It would be their obligation to get them,” he said of BERC.

Once Andreucci said BERC turned over its documents to another agency, The News filed a request with HUD, under the federal Freedom of Information Act. HUD responded that the documents could not be released while the case against Wanamaker was in court.

In December 2012, after Wanamaker was sentenced, The News submitted another federal FOIA request to HUD and a state FOIL request to BERC, again asking for the documents.

HUD released 367 pages of documents it had received from BERC but redacted all names from the papers. HUD officials said that under the federal law, agencies cannot release names of nonfederal employees or those not the target of an investigation.

BERC did not respond to The News’ December 2012 FOI request, but late Friday, Andreucci contacted The News in response to a March 31 FOI request seeking a copy of whatever BERC travel policy may exist.

“I am not aware of any,” he said. Andreucci then said he would look into The News’ request for Wanamaker’s spending documents.

– Susan Schulman