More than a week after the FBI seized boxes of files from the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency’s office at City Hall, rumors continue whirling over what the FBI is investigating.
Yet the only word from city officials is BURA is “open for business.”
Federal investigators did not direct BURA to halt any projects or programs, hold up any funds, or get rid of any staff, according to Brendan R. Mehaffy, the BURA vice chairman and executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning.
All projects are continuing, Mehaffy said.
BURA continues to receive all its federal funding, according to a top official with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Currently, no HUD funding to the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency has been frozen,” said Lynne Patton, HUD regional administrator for New York and New Jersey.
“My office continues to monitor the situation related to recent activity by the HUD Office of the Inspector General,” she said.
FBI agents interviewed Mehaffy at his home on Nov. 6, then arrived at City Hall along with the IRS and HUD’s inspector general’s office to go through documents in BURA’s housing division office. The agents left City Hall at the end of the day with boxes of documents carried out on two carts.
In the initial aftermath of the raid, organizations doing business with BURA were unsure if their funding would continue, but several agencies contacted by The Buffalo News said they’ve been assured their BURA funding and programs remain intact.
“We’ve been told not to worry,” said Roseann Scibilia, executive director of the University District Development Association, which receives BURA money to help administer housing programs.
In fact, in the days after the raid, anticipated BURA housing funding arrived as scheduled, she said.
Similarly Michael Riegel, who heads Belmont Housing Resources, which manages two major programs for BURA – an owner-occupant rehabilitation loan program and an emergency repair program – was told funding for the programs will continue.
Belmont Housing, he said, was told by BURA staff that those programs don’t appear to be the target of the federal probe. “None of the files were removed from City Hall,” Riegel said his agency was told.
BURA officials, like the FBI, have been tight-lipped about what records the agents seized. In addition to the homeowner loan and emergency repair programs, the other major BURA programs involve federal money used by the city, or awarded to nonprofit organizations and other developers, to create new housing for low-to-moderate income renters and home buyers.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, who chairs the BURA board, as well as the three city council members who sit on the BURA board, have said they were not told, and did not ask, who the target of the federal investigation is, or what documents were removed from City Hall. Brown repeated those comments this week.
Mehaffy has declined to disclose details about his conversation with the FBI or the documents taken from the BURA office. Mehaffy has, however, said he doesn’t believe BURA has done anything wrong.
Mehaffy and Brown have also said BURA remains “open for business.”
Mehaffy has also talked about the work BURA has done to strengthen its policies since he took over in 2010, and how those updated procedures have resulted in BURA getting “clean audits” from BURA auditors as well as HUD.
“We have been strengthening our policies and procedures for the past decade,” he said. “We continue to seek ways to improve.”
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