Mayor Byron W. Brown was upset about white out-of-town developers getting too much work in Buffalo when he insisted on adding a prominent African-American minister to a new housing project, according to Brown’s second-in-command at the time.
Steven M. Casey, the former deputy mayor, says in an affidavit that Brown pushed hard for the Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse. But in the newly disclosed court document, Casey stops short of linking the mayor or Stenhouse to a pay-to-play scheme.
Casey, in a signed statement, says Brown wanted Stenhouse to be the face of a $12 million project that NRP Properties of Cleveland unveiled in 2009 and became irritated when Casey questioned the need for Stenhouse.
In his four-page affidavit, Casey says he also challenged the mayor’s “inconsistency” in opposing NRP’s scattered site housing development while supporting a different but similar scattered site proposal elsewhere.
“His concerns about scattered site and rent to own had never been expressed to me before,” Casey said of Brown. “When I challenged Mayor Brown about this inconsistency, he dismissed my concern.”
The signed statement from Casey, who is also talking to the FBI, provides the first details into what Brown’s onetime confidante, the man credited with engineering his rise to power, is saying about the mayor’s role in killing the project.
The affidavit, signed in August, supports some of NRP’s allegations, most notably Brown’s campaign to hire Stenhouse and his instructions to kill the project. But it makes no direct mention of retaliation or a pay-to-play scheme.
Brown’s lawyers say the Casey affidavit is noteworthy for what it doesn’t include - any evidence of retaliation by the mayor.
“The Casey affidavit doesn’t say thing about a pay-to-play scheme,” said Michael A. Brady, a lawyer for the mayor and city. “And it certainly doesn’t back up their claims about a pay-to-play scheme.”
At the crux of NRP’s lawsuit is the allegation that Brown’s anger over Stenhouse, a political ally, not getting a contract led to the project’s demise.
“The Casey affidavit is further evidence of the wrongful conduct the mayor engaged in,” said Thomas S. Lane, one of the developer’s lawyers.
Casey’s defense lawyer says his client stands by his statement, which represents “the sum total of his limited knowledge” about the NRP project and Stenhouse. He also challenged Lane’s characterization of its significance.
“It would be unfair to infer more than what the affidavit states,” Rondey O. Personius, Casey’s attorney, said in a written statement. “Clearly, what he knows and has said, as reflected in his affidavit, and what Mr. Lane contends in his declaration, are two different things.”
Casey, who left City Hall to join a private development company, has emerged in recent months as a potential key witness in the NRP suit.
He is also believed to be cooperating with federal and state criminal probes into political operative G. Steven Pigeon, his former mentor. Pigeon was recently indicted on nine felony counts, most involving bribery.
Casey, in his affidavit, provides a chronological account of what he claims to remember about the NRP deal.
He learned of it in 2008 or 2009, he says, and soon discovered Brown wanted Stenhouse involved in the project.
“At the time, he commented that he was tired with the out-of-town white developers handling all of these projects.” Casey said in his statement.
Later, when Casey again approached the mayor about NRP and Stenhouse, he claims the mayor became irritated with him.
“I questioned whether there was any need for Rev. Stenhouse to have a role on the project,” he said in his affidavit.
“At that point, Mayor Brown became irritated and his position pivoted from requiring a role for Rev. Stenhouse to Mayor Brown expressing disapproval of the project because it was scattered site and rent to own.”
Casey says Brown also was upset about phone calls he was getting from an attorney representing NRP and others supporting the project.
He also cautioned the mayor, the affidavit states, about admitting that “he was sick and tired of out-of-town white developers on the East Side.”
The affidavit ends with Casey’s confirmation that Brown instructed him to kill the development.
NRP’s lawyers say the evidence of retaliation by the mayor is clear when considering what Brown was requiring for the project to move forward and how he ultimately punished the developer for not meeting that requirement.
“When you read the affidavit, it’s clear that when his demand was not met and Stenhouse was not hired, he killed the project,” Lane said of the mayor and his motivation.
NRP’s disclosures about Casey first came to light when the city’s new defense team filed a motion to kill the lawsuit and end discovery before Casey and several others were formally deposed.
The city’s new motion claims the defendants are protected by “legislative immunity” and suggests moving forward with depositions and other forms of discovery at this time would unfairly harm them.
NRP’s lawyers, during a recent hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie G. Foschio, claimed the immunity argument was nothing more than a delaying tactic and was rooted in the mayor’s desire to avoid more depositions and more embarrassing disclosures.
Brown testified under oath about the pay-to-play allegations for the first time during his own deposition last year. In it, he said he didn’t remember a conversation in 2009 in which he is alleged to have spelled out his quid pro quo demand that NRP hire Stenhouse.
“I don’t recall that exact conversation,” Brown testified in July of last year.
NRP’s complaint is rooted in a failed housing project that was supposed to result in 50 rental homes in the Masten and Cold Springs neighborhoods.
In early 2009, the project stalled when Brown said he was uncomfortable with the project, in part because of a requirement that it be rent-to-own housing.
A short time later, NRP filed suit in federal court.
Stenhouse, a well-known and influential minister with his own record of development on the East Side, was a defendant in the suit until he settled with NRP for a reported $200,000 in early 2012.
Despite settling, Stenhouse has said, through his lawyers, that he never demanded or in any way insisted on a contract with NRP.