“Pay to play” lawsuit returns to the courtroom

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Allegations were flying once again, in federal court, over a long-simmering case involving Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s office.

An Ohio-based developer has accused top city officials of engaging in a “pay to play” scheme favoring an influential church leader, and Wednesday, attorneys for the developer faced off with lawyers for the city in U.S. District Court in Buffalo.

Cleveland-based NRP Corporation was the lead developer for a $12 million project to build 50 affordable homes on the city’s east side, but Mayor Byron Brown suddenly cancelled the project five years ago. NRP’s attorneys allege it was because NRP refused to “play ball” with Rev. Richard Stenhouse, or an agency Stenhouse controlled called the Jeremiah Partnership.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Mayor Brown, Masten District Councilman Demone Smith, former Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and the Buffalo Urban Development Agency (BURA).

Rev. Stenhouse was originally named in the lawsuit, but he recently settled out of court with NRP, for a reported $200,000. NRP is seeking triple damages for the failed $12 million project’s cancellation, and the company’s attorneys plan to interview Stenhouse to find out what his role has been in other city-run projects.

NRP’s lawer, Nelson Perel, talked about the company’s broken dreams, saying, “[NRP] came into the City of Buffalo, they planned to build 50 beautiful brand new homes on the east side of Buffalo, and that project was stopped by the mayor’s office.”

Defense lawyers declined comment after the hearing before Federal Magistrate Judge Leslie Foschio.

The case returns to court in October.

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