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Mayor Brown, planning chief tight-lipped on what FBI is investigating

A day after the FBI seized cartons filled with documents from a City Hall office, Mayor Byron W. Brown said Thursday he doesn't know what the agents are investigating, but remains confident in the city officials leading the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

Brown said federal investigators from the FBI, Department of Housing and Urban Development and the IRS did not discuss the investigation with him and he didn't ask them about it.

The mayor said he did talk with Brendan R. Mehaffy, his executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning and vice chairman of the Urban Renewal Agency, after agents interviewed Mehaffy at his home early Wednesday. But Brown said he didn't ask Mehaffy or any other BURA employees what the agents asked them about, or what documents were seized, Brown said.

"I have been told by our counsel it would be inappropriate for me to look into any of those operational details," Brown said, referring to the city attorney's office.

"Of course I am interested. Of course I am concerned," said Brown, who is chairman of the BURA board of directors. "If they are conducting an investigation they will conduct it, and conclude it at some point."

Brown said he has confidence in Mehaffy. "I have confidence in his integrity, in his professionalism."

In an exclusive interview with The Buffalo News, Mehaffy said Thursday the investigation involves the use of federal money, but said he doesn't know the target of the federal probe – or even whether the target is inside or outside of City Hall.

"Federal dollars are not just touched by individuals in this building; there are development projects that receive federal dollars," he said.

Mehaffy said he does not believe his agency has done anything wrong.

"I do not believe there has been anything done improperly in the agency. I'm not aware of anything that leads me to believe that there is anything that has been done wrong by someone in this building," he said.

"We will cooperate fully with any investigation," he continued. "If they want to look at documents, they can. It's an open door. That's not a concern. We have run an agency with nothing to hide. We will see how this plays out, we will see where the investigation leads."

FBI agents arrived at Mehaffy's house Wednesday morning, while he, his wife and their two school-age children were home. The agents did not have a search warrant, but spoke with Mehaffy. Mehaffy declined to disclose what he was asked, saying it would be inappropriate.

Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning and vice chairman of the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency, looks on as Mayor Byron Brown talks about historic redevelopment tax credits on April 14, 2014. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Later Wednesday, the federal investigators arrived at City Hall with a search warrant, then spent much of the day in BURA's third-floor housing division office. They left with boxes filled with documents.

Mehaffy said it would be inappropriate for him to disclose what documents were seized, or who else the investigators spoke with.

Neither Mehaffy nor the mayor brought up details of Mehaffy's discussion with the FBI when he talked with Brown.

"Our conversation was about how I was doing, and how my family was doing," Mehaffy said.

Mehaffy, an attorney who also has a degree in planning, was named to his current post in 2010. Part of his mission was to improve BURA, an agency with a history of problems. If fact, HUD had been investigating the agency when he took the job, and in 2011 issued a scathing report detailing years of past mismanagement. As a result of that report, BURA funds were temporarily frozen.

Mehaffy spoke Thursday of the efforts that have gone into turning the agency around. BURA has increased oversight of its program, brought in new financial staff, and developed a strong relationship with the local HUD office, he said.

In recent years, Mehaffy said, the agency has received positive audit and monitoring reports from HUD as well as private auditors.

Mehaffy said he's proud of the BURA staff and the progress the agency has made.

"The work is important," he said. "We do the work to benefit some of the most vulnerable people in the city. We've built housing units, we've removed blight. We've improved streets and sidewalks and parks.

"What happened yesterday is extraordinarily disheartening," he said.

FBI seizes City Hall records, questions planning chief at his home

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