WNYmedia Network spoke with numerous people over the weekend who seem to know a lot about what Thursday’s raid on Grassroots Headquarters and two other properties closely tied to long time East Side political operative Maurice Garner was all about.
It’s no secret that Maurice Garner (is/was) extremely close to Steve Pigeon, Jack O’Donnell, Steve Casey and Mayor Byron Brown before the ceiling collapsed and federal investigators raided the homes of Casey, Pigeon and Republican political operative and former Chris Collins chief of Staff Chris Grant’s homes in 2015.
Although federal investigators aren’t talking, speculation is someone finally ratted on Garner in connection to the Steve Pigeon investigation. However, others seem to think it could also be loosely related to the ongoing investigation into the LP Ciminelli bribery case.
If ever there is a common thread linking these two investigations together it would be Maurice Garner.
Garner’s Urban Visions for Tomorrow organization did regular work with Ciminelli Construction as part of the one billion dollar Buffalo school renovations project. Garner’s company was one of several involved in the schools project cited for failing to meet women and minority recruitment goals.
State Board of Elections filings indicate that over the past four years Garner’s Urban Vision for Tomorrow shows contributions of $22,825 from: Brown’s campaign ($14,150); County Court Judge James Bargnesi’s committee ($7,500); former interim DA Michael Flaherty’s committee ($1,000); and Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams’ campaign ($175).
Speculation is that the raid specifically focused around four specific entities all created or organized by Garner. Garner Associates, Urban vision for Tomorrow, The Urban Chamber of Commerce, and most notably, a Political Action Committee created in 2010 by Garner called “Be the Change” (BEC).
Its unclear how many PAC’s Garner has actually created over the years.
Political Action Committees
Political Action Committees can take in as much cash as they desire, but can only support individual campaigns to the amount of $5000, which includes cash, in kind or a combination of both. Also, a political candidate cannot “coordinate” with the PACs supporting his or her campaign.
Along with bribing judges and a few other larger scale illegalities, this activity is exactly what has Steve Pigeon, Kristy Mazurek and others currently in trouble with state and federal investigators:
The State Attorney General’s Office accused them of coordinating with candidates for three county and town offices during the 2013 primary election season.
According to the complaint, the independent expenditure committee raised and spent money on behalf of candidates in order to circumvent contribution limits and also falsified its report to the state Board of Elections. Pigeon is described in the complaint as the committee’s fundraiser and primary decision maker.
That case is now working its way through state and federal court.
‘339’ Genesee Street
Be the Change was created in 2010 and is registered to the property at 339 Genesee Street.
Some time ago, Garner was at odds with Grassroots as an organization, dismayed at the lack of interest by members to ‘come into the digital age’, according to sources familiar with the situation.
At one point, Garner even held a ‘burning ceremony’ at Grassroots as a ceremonial attempt to break them free from the paper trail they had long been accustomed too.
Garner wanted to turn ‘339’ into an office that candidates could use for campaigns including high tech computer stations, big screen TVs, kitchen constantly filled with food (as their campaign filings firmly support) and even came complete with a Wii and an Xbox so people could relax before and after walking the neighborhoods for petitions, etc…
“The list of campaigns who worked directly out of ‘339’ Genesee street would make your head spin”, said a source familiar with the concept.
Throughout the years, the building was used by political candidates as an east side ‘headquarters’ for various activities involving the campaigns of Attorney General Eric Schniderman, Mayor Byron Brown, Comptroller Mark Schroeder and most recently, Mike Flaherty for District Attorney in 2016.
Garner also ran the Urban Chamber of Commerce out of ‘339’ for years before moving into a different headquarters on 1325 Main Street. Grassroots eventually caved and moved into 339 as well.
Be the Change PAC
While WNY Progressive Caucus was secretly colluding with campaigns and trying to cover it up, Be the Change was doing everything in just about plain sight of anyone paying attention.
Campaigns across Erie County were working directly out of the headquarters at 339 Genesee Street and were paying Garner to do so.
Be the Change, could be considered as an original ‘test run’ for what would become the WNY Progressive Caucus emergence in 2013.
A Look at the incomplete campaign filings of Be the Change, raise immediate red flags.
Inconsistent and incomplete campaign filings, combined with contributions from the same players involved with now infamous WNY Progressive Caucus, Be the Change has Pigeon and Co. written all over it.
Except for a large donation from Mayor Brown’s campaign in 2014 (an entire year after his 2013 campaign for Mayor) campaign filings for BEC show only minimal success. Only a few politicians who paid BEC actually show up on BOE filings as contributions:
Sources believe that $10,000 of that money was eventually spent on Crystal Peoples-Stokes campaign against Antoine Thompson in the 2014 Primary:
Meanwhile, Garner’s Urban Chamber of Commerce received a number of payments from several political candidates who were known to have done campaign work directly out of ‘339’ Genesee Street with the help of Garner and his volunteers.
Some of them include: Senator Tim Kennedy ($3,500); Michael Flaherty ($2,500); City Comptroller Mark Schroeder ($1,865); Mayor Brown ($1,500); Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes ($795); Michele Brown for Family Court ($500); Buffalo Council President Darius Pridgen ($500); County Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams ($500); County Court Judge James Bargnesi ($500); and City Court Judge Craig Hannah ($325).
Be the Change came to a screeching halt in 2015, coincidentally, around the same time federal investigators were raiding the homes of Garner’s business partners and close associates.
Other than some activity regarding the DA race in 2016, Be the Change has been oddly silent since the shoe dropped on Garner’s other associates:
Records at the Board of Elections have multiple names listed as people who could be named as the treasurer of Be the Change.
WNYmedia Network is sending a FOIL request to Albany to find out who exactly is listed as the treasurer of Be the Change.
We’ll keep you posted…