Federal and state agents five weeks ago raided the headquarters of Grassroots – one of Buffalo's most influential political organizations – along with the home of its founder, Maurice L. Garner, amid reports that authorities are following a money trail tied to campaign finance reports.
Even though investigators are believed to be scrutinizing the records and computers they seized from the organization, Grassroots now has failed to file required campaign finance reports due last Monday with the state Board of Elections.
What's more, a Grassroots offshoot that Garner created, Be the Change, also didn't file its required financial disclosure reports, according to a state election board spokesman.
Garner recently retained Buffalo attorney Patrick J. Brown to represent him during the probe by state and federal investigators. Brown confirmed he represents Garner, but declined further comment. Brown, with the Losi and Gangi law firm, also represented Henry F. Wojtaszek, the former Niagara County Republican chairman who recently pleaded to a misdemeanor election law violation in connection to an ongoing case against former state Sen. George D. Maziarz.
Investigators questioned Garner after state and federal investigators raided his home and two organizations he is associated with – Grassroots and the Urban Chamber of Commerce. Investigators on June 15 removed documents and computers from the three addresses during the raids. No charges have been filed against Garner, authorities said.
Investigators have not disclosed the focus of the Grassroots-related probe, but several sources have told The Buffalo News that the raids were connected to an investigation of G. Steven Pigeon, a longtime Erie County Democratic political operative, and that investigators are combing through Grassroots and related campaign finance reports.
Garner did not return a call to comment. Neither did Grassroots president Willie Morris nor Adia C. Jordan, who is listed in state election board records as the Grassroots campaign treasurer.
Political candidates and committees were required to submit to the state election board by July 17 their most recent financial reports, covering a six-month period that goes back to mid-January. As of Friday, neither Grassroots nor Be the Change filed reports, according to election board spokesman Thomas E. Connolly.
There is no immediate penalty for non-filing, but if a report is not subsequently filed, the failure sets in motion a process that could result in a misdemeanor charge, according to state Election Law.
By not filing the July report, Grassroots failed to disclose who gave the organization money over the past six months, how the organization spent money during that time, and how much money it now has in hand.
But other candidates and committees did report contributing money to Grassroots during that period.
The Buffalo News identified just over $11,000 in contributions and other payments that 14 different candidates or political committees made to Grassroots between mid-January and mid-July.
Among the contributors were Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, longtime Grassroots members who used Grassroots as a political springboard early in their careers. Brown's political committee gave the organization $2,000 in April while Peoples-Stokes' campaign fund gave Grassroots $1,000 in June.
Others contributors included attorney Acea M. Mosey, whose campaign for Erie County surrogate made a $1,360 payment to Grassroots that included money to help pay printing costs for campaign literature.
The campaign of City Court Judge Betty Calvo-Torrres gave Grassroots $1,370 while state Sen. Timothy Kennedy's Kennedy for Senate fund donated $1,000.
A couple of payments – from Mosey and Calvo Torres – were dated in the days just after the June 15 raid, but Grassroots does not appear to have received any contributions dated after June 21, The News found.
No candidate reported receiving money from Grassroots, however, but one report shows Garner donating $100 to Mosey's campaign in February.
The News did not find any spending over the past six months involving Be the Change, the political committee Garner created in 2010. There also is no indication that Garner's political consulting firms, Garner Associates or Urban Vision, which operate from his Buffalo home, received any political payments from mid-January to mid-July.
But the Urban Chamber of Commerce that Garner helped create received $650 in political donations. Those funds included $350 from the Mosey for Surrogate campaign, $200 from the Brown for Buffalo campaign fund and $100 from former Erie County Executive Joel M. Giambra, who bought tickets to the chamber's "Dancing with the Stars" fundraising event in late June.
The July filing does not appear to be the first time Grassroots has failed to comply with state election law rules.
The Buffalo News previously reported that Grassroots filed reports stating the organization did not receive any contributions from mid-July 2010 until mid-July 2012. But the News identified what appears to be $13,000 in contributions and related payments candidates reported making to Grassroots during the two-year period.