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District attorney investigating report of bribe in Hamburg rink project

The Erie County district attorney's office is investigating an allegation of a bribe involving the proposed Hamburg public/private ice rink project.

"We are aware; we are investigating," said Joanna Pasceri, public information officer for District Attorney John J. Flynn.

The town has proposed partnering with Sportstar Capital of Toronto to develop a $30 million multipurpose sports complex including two ice rinks, a multipurpose turf field, gym, snack bar and meeting rooms. Rink Management Service Corp. would operate the facility, which would be built on part of the former South Shore Golf course.

No bribe offered in Hamburg ice rink project, DA says

Hamburg Town Councilman Tom Best Jr., a former Hamburg police detective, said he was made aware of the investigation by a member of a sports group in Hamburg. He contacted the district attorney's office and confirmed the investigation involves developer Marty Starkman of Sportstar Capital of Toronto.

Starkman said he knew nothing about the allegation and denied doing anything wrong.

"Contact anybody I dealt with in Hamburg, and it's all above board," he said. "You're surprising me. There is no reason to believe anything I've done with anybody has been anything but above board."

A rendering of Sportstar's proposed multisport complex in Hamburg, N.Y. The Town of Hamburg unveiled the rendering on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at a public hearing about the public/private project.

The district attorney's public information officer offered no additional information, saying the office does not want to jeopardize the investigation.

Reaction is mixed as Hamburg unveils plans for $30 million sports complex

Town Supervisor Steven J. Walters said he was not aware of the investigation, and puts little stock in the allegation. He said opponents of the town's project have put out lies and innuendo in recent weeks. And he said developer Marty Starkman of Sportstar Capital has been upstanding in dealings with the town.

"Marty has never done anything in my presence that would make me believe he is anything but ethical and professional in this whole process," Walters said.

Best, who has major concerns about the project, said he told Walters and Councilman Michael Quinn about his conversation with the district attorney's office. Quinn said he had heard there was an investigation, but did not independently verify it.

The sports facility has generated controversy for months over the lack of public discussion of the details, but Walters said the town could not brief residents until it had specific information to share. The town and developers held an open house on the project Thursday, giving about 150 residents who attended the opportunity to see drawings of  potential floor plans and building exteriors, and to ask questions.

Meanwhile, a private concern has proposed a similar project at the former McKinley Park Inn that would not rely on any taxpayer money. The Kaleta Group, including former Buffalo Sabre Patrick Kaleta, working with Libertore Management Group and Ellicott Development, has submitted preliminary plans to the town and is proceeding with construction drawings. The privately funded Kaleta project is about $15 million, and includes two ice rinks, soccer fields and other workout and entertainment areas.

The Hamburg Hawks Hockey Association, which would be a major anchor at either facility, has committed to go with the Kaleta Group instead of the town public/private partnership.

Best said even if the Kaletas don’t build their rink "my vote is still to stop the project, hire an independent consultant to do a true feasibility study and to bring it to a vote to let the people decide if they want it."

A group, Hamburg Taxpayers Against Public Funded Sports Complex, has formed and is pushing for a public vote on the proposal. The supervisor said a referendum is not required for the project.

"Why haven’t these people brought these concerns to Town Board?" he said of the bribery allegation. "Nothing has been formally brought to the Town Board."

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