The governing board and staff of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) has engaged in a deliberately orchestrated campaign of retribution against Housing Commissioner Joe Mascia, he has alleged.
In February of 2014, Masica began asking questions about an out-of-control asbestos removal contract at the former Kensington Heights housing complex. That contract had ballooned wildly and inexplicably, and the Board refused to give answers.
The contract had been initially awarded at $5 million to a firm controlled by respected local businessman Hormoz Mansouri. Under suspect circumstances, the contract was then terminated and awarded to another firm, controlled by Jim Jerge. The value of the contract ballooned to $13 million. The work still has not been completed, and the BMHA Board still refuses to offer explanations.
Mascia says that Adam Perry, an attorney doing work for BMHA, began to target him after he began demanding a proper accounting of the Authority’s spending and contracting process. Perry is a high profile attorney. He and his law firm, Hodgson Russ, have enjoyed lucrative government contracts over many years.
Perry drafted a complaint against Mascia for failing to file a campaign finance disclosure, which Mascia filed late. Never before (to the best of local memory) had this offense ever been charged. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, for instance, did not file a campaign disclosure for 8 years while serving in the Assembly. Like many other politicians, she has never been charged.
But Perry pushed hard and lobbied his close friend, District Attorney Frank Sedita. Mascia says that he saw it happen in front of him, at Daisy’s in Lackawanna on the Saturday before President’s Day. In unprecedented fashion, Sedita quickly brought up charges against Marcia.
He also sent law enforcement officials to the Clerk’s Office, where Mascia worked part time, in order to make a scene. Mascia says it was designed to intimidate County Clerk Chris Jacobs into terminating him over a politically motivated and largely fabricated charge.
By Monday of that same weekend, Jacobs insisted on Mascia’s resignation. Some say it was cowardice on Jacobs’ part; others say it was complicit.
Stunning conflicts of interest
At the time when Perry was drafting a complaint against Mascia for failing to file a campaign disclosure, Perry was working for BMHA as an attorney. While he was performing legal work for the Authority, he was also targeting an elected Housing Commissioner with deliberate and calculated retribution, says Mascia.
Perry is also the personal attorney of Frank Sedita, Mascia says, which raises jaw dropping conflict of interest concerns.
“I was attacked – and lost my job – because of retribution for asking questions about an asbestos removal contract that ballooned from $5 million to $13 million overnight and without explanation,” the Commissioner said. “The level of corruption in this city is staggering, where elected officials and bureaucrats openly abuse their power to go after whistleblowers.”
Observers say that Chief City Court Judge Thomas Amedeo, known in some political circles as “the last honest judge in town,” found the whole situation rather peculiar. It was both unprecedented and overkill on the part of the District Attorney’s office.
He asked the parties to work out a plea bargain, but the District Attorney’s office pushed hard. The prosecutor insistently said to the judge, “We want to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.”
Eventually the parties were able coax Mascia into a plea deal to the charge, which political observers saw as a farce from the beginning. After all, the campaign finance disclosure had been filed, only late.
As a result of calculated retribution, Mascia has incurred significant losses including for legal fees, a lost job, and negative press coverage. But he doesn’t plan on backing down. He has a handful of Freedom of Information Act requests that are pending, and continues to demand answers about the Kensington Heights contact.
Mascia says that this was an egregious abuse of power that illustrates the worst excesses of our government and the most improper use of our courts.
“I am an elected official and this is America,” Mascia asserts.
This is the first in a forthcoming series of articles that investigates improper financial management and procurement practices at the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.