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Gramigna Goes Too Far

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I don’t expect much truth when I visit the political gossip sites authored by Joe Illuzzi and his former employee Glenn Gramigna. I read them to see who they’re bowing and scraping to, what stories and rumors they’re being paid to promote. Both—the Scientologist Gramigna and the born-again Christian Illuzzi—engage in wanton slander and misrepresentation. (And I use that term as a writer, not a lawyer.) I can’t imagine why anyone would take them seriously, or why so many politicians support their con.

Today Gramigna goes too far with this post, in which he suggests that housing activist Dick Kern, late of Buffalo and currently of Minneapolis, has confessed to writing the nonsense about Byron Brown that led to the Syaed Ali affair.

Here’s what Gramigna posted:

Ex Buffalo Activist Admits Writing Notorious, Totally False Byron Brown E-Mails

Written by Glenn Gramigna, Editor

NewWNYPolitics has learned that a former Buffalo political activist, who has since left town, has admitted authorship of that notorious series of e-mails which falsely sought to implicate Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in various forms of improper conduct. The confessions came in a series of phone calls this individual has made recently. Known to mix erratic behavior with occasionally intelligent critiques of area shortcomings, this person has stayed active in local affairs through e-mails and phone calls, while living out of the area in recent years. His signed e-mails often consist of wild charges and bizarre claims, not unlike those contained in the civilly actionable series of untrue cyberspace attacks aimed at the Mayor.

Meanwhile, despite the claims of some, WNY information technology entrepreneur Syaed Ali, has not permanently forsaken Buffalo for Toronto, Stamford, CT or anywhere else. Instead, this 25 year old high tech professional is currently on a business trip to the West Coast and intends to return to the Queen City soon.

Dick Kern has been a lot of things to a lot of people, but there one thing he’s never been: anonymous. The emails about Brown were sent under a pseudonym. Leaving out the absurd content, with which Kern would have no truck, anonymity is by itself enough to disqualify Kern as the sender.

Earlier this week, Kern asked Syaed Ali for an update on the job opening she’s been advertising on Gramigna’s site. Ali responded with a request that Kern cease and desist from emailing him.

And today Gramigna, who’s been happily accepting advertising from Ali’s company since the scandal broke in January, comes out with this nonsense.

  • observer

    “Leaving out the absurd content, with which Kern would have no truck, anonymity is by itself enough to disqualify Kern as the sender.”

    Not only that, but wasn’t there some matchup of IP addresses of those original anti-Brown emails to IP addresses of some more recent emails defending SAIL-IT or Gramigna? I don’t recall exact details of that.

    Also the similarities in writing style between the emails, the supposed text messages, and some pages which were at the time on the SAIL-IT web site.

  • Peter A Reese

    Criticize Gramigna all you want, but at least Lenihan corrects the spelling and grammar before he allows Glenn to post items. Reading Illuzzi can really make your head hurt.

  • Rodriguez

    Well, now, “ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black.”

    So these two are flauting their religious backgrounds while, very probably, the founders are rolling in their graves.

    It’s one thing to spin a story and very much another to caste all in out lies.

    Considering the fact that most readership on both sites are either their advertisers or those, like Mr. Kelly, looking to see what the trash is out there, I also ask why anyone would advertise on them.

    And, on the Gramigna site, you can easily tell which article was written by him and which was written by the person he is interviewing.

  • Mr.Justice

    Who cares about Gramigna more serious business below.

    Leonard Stokes on his restaurant: I will try my hardest to rectify things. I’m an entrepreneur, a young person. It’s a business venture that failed.
    Bill Wippert / Buffalo News

    Updated: 05/24/09 08:52 AM
    City Hall’s costly entry into the restaurant business
    Development agency helped finance and manage short-lived restaurant that has left taxpayers stuck with the bill
    By Patrick Lakamp and James Heaney
    News Staff Reporters
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    “These people (the BERC) should have never opened a restaurant for him.” Sam Reda, business consultant
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    * COMMENT at the Outrages & Insights blog, “A question for Mayor Brown”

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    Bankers on a city board told local basketball star Leonard Stokes “no” when he asked to borrow $120,000 from City Hall to start an upscale restaurant.

    Too much risk. Too little private money. Not enough experience on the resume.

    But City Hall bureaucrats replied “yes” to the then 26-year-old Stokes. They cobbled together $160,000 in loans and grants to help him launch One Sunset, his Gates Circle restaurant.

    And they didn’t stop there.

    One of the city’s top economic development officials did everything from handling cash receipts to negotiating with vendors to decorating restaurant bathrooms.

    “She was there more than Leonard was,” said Jeff Wright, a former bartender, of Michelle M. Barron. Barron is vice president of neighborhood economic development for the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., City Hall’s development agency.

    “When I needed money for a liquor order . . . I’d have to text her — never Leonard. Always her,” added Aaron Ingrao, another former bartender.

    One Sunset, which occupied the Delaware Avenue address that was once home to the Locker Room, closed in December after barely one year in business. The restaurant was a financial disaster.

    Stokes defaulted on $160,000 in city and county loans and grants, and state agencies and local businesses are seeking unpaid taxes and wages, overdue bills and missing equipment. Stokes is also out almost $150,000 in his own money, he said.

    The debt is Stokes’ to pay. But a Buffalo News investigation found BERC, the city development agency chaired by Mayor Byron W. Brown, may be the bigger culprit.

    “These people should have never opened a restaurant for him,” said Sam Reda, a consultant who was recruited by Barron and Ellicott Council Member Brian C. Davis to help Stokes.

    “He had no background in the business, period,” Reda said. “She [Barron] was involved trying to make this kid look like a successful entrepreneur. But they didn’t know what to do.”

    The News investigation into One Sunset included a review of public documents and internal records and e-mails, and interviews with two dozen people.

    The News investigation found:

    • The restaurant was premised on a faulty business plan — partly drafted by Barron. The plan claimed Stokes worked as a general manager at the Montgomery Inn, an iconic Cincinnati restaurant famed for its barbecued ribs. In reality, he worked in the kitchen.

    • After bankers and others on BERC’s large loan committee rejected Stokes’ loan request, BERC employees approved smaller loans and a grant whose amounts exempted the proposal from further banker scrutiny. The money totaled $110,000, almost as much as the $120,000 rejected by the bankers.

    • Although One Sunset was located in the Delaware District, the restaurant’s $30,000 grant came from federal anti-poverty money allocated to Davis for his Ellicott Council District.

    • Delays and money problems plagued One Sunset from the start. The opening was pushed back months while Stokes waited for a liquor license. Even before the opening, the landlord sued for unpaid rent. Sales tax went unpaid. So did bills from vendors. Telephone service was cut off the month after the restaurant opened.

    • Barron, the agency’s vice president, helped run the restaurant. She wrote checks, dealt with the bookkeeper and payroll company, and did trouble- shooting with vendors demanding payment for overdue bills.

    • City officials, including Barron, urged the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to loan the restaurant $50,000 without disclosing the restaurant was on the brink of closing. The IDA made the loan without checking financial statements or public documents showing One Sunset was in trouble.

    • Claims against the restaurant top $235,000. There’s $160,000 owed to city and county agencies. The state Department of Taxation and Finance obtained a $21,754 lien for unpaid sales tax receipts. The state Labor Department imposed a $15,037 penalty for failing to pay wages to four former employees. Two vendors obtained judgments for $16,213. The restaurant owner who occupied the building before One Sunset is suing to recover $43,975 in equipment and furniture. There’s at least three months’ rent totaling $10,500 that Stokes’ landlord said remains unpaid. Reda, the consultant, wasn’t paid for months and says he’s owed at least $6,000.

    Barron said she offered Stokes “just standard routine” help, similar to what she gives other businesses. She denied a hands-on role with One Sunset.

    Stokes said he is “grateful” for City Hall’s help.

    “I will try my hardest to rectify things,” he said. “I’m an entrepreneur, a young person. It’s a business venture that failed.”

    Mayor Brown refused to comment on the failed restaurant. Also refusing to comment was Davis, who represents the Council on the BERC board.

    First loan rejected

    Leonard Stokes was one of Western New York’s greatest high school basketball players.

    He led Turner-Carroll High School to state championships in 1998 and 1999, and was named the state’s top player in his senior year.

    The 6-foot-6-inch guard went on to star at the University of Cincinnati, where he became one of the top 20 scorers in the school’s history.

    Stokes played on National Basketball Association development league teams in Asheville, N. C., and Fort Myers, Fla., but returned to Buffalo in 2006 to help care for his ill mother.

    He still harbored NBA hopes, but while in Buffalo, looked for other opportunities. He chose the restaurant business. And he got plenty of help from people interested in the well-liked basketball player, who has remained a source of pride in his community and throughout Buffalo.

    In April 2007, Stokes went before the city development agency with his plan for a fine-dining restaurant offering an elegant atmosphere as well as take-out service, and a theater room that would be booked for boxing matches and other sporting events. It also would offer a soul food brunch — $25 for adults and $12 for children — that would include gospel performances.

    The project had a $260,000 price tag. Stokes asked for a $120,000 loan. He was going to put in $30,000. He also offered his experience from having worked summers as general manager at the landmark Cincinnati restaurant — a claim that proved to be false.

    The agency’s large loan committee — made up mostly of appointed bankers and other volunteers from the private sector—rejected Stokes’ request.

    For starters, Stokes couldn’t get a required bank loan to cover at least half the cost of the project, agency officials said.

    Nancy LaTulip, a banker on the large loan committee, said she and her colleagues had other misgivings. Stokes had no experience running a restaurant, and his application indicated he would be traveling a lot.

    Two successful restaurant operators who reviewed Stokes’ business plan for The News concluded One Sunset’s revenue and expense projections were unrealistic.

    What’s more, the restaurant plan lacked a clear identity and misread its market, they said.

    “What family of four would spend $75 for Sunday brunch?” one restaurateur asked.

    The News obtained a draft copy of the restaurant’s business plan, and related e-mails, that show Barron participated in its development early on.

    Barron and Stokes denied she helped write the plan.

    In June 2007, a few months after the initial denial, Stokes returned with a scaled down, $120,000 proposal. This time he said he’d put in $80,000 of his own money. He asked for a $40,000 loan.

    Smaller loans approved

    This time, his request went to a different committee: the small-loan committee comprising Barron and three other BERC staffers. No bankers.

    This committee could approve loans up to $40,000. That’s what it did.

    Along with the money though, the agency encouraged Stokes to take a course on running a small business recommended for entrepreneurs accepting city loans. He never took it, although he did confer with the instructor.

    One of the things that impressed the small-loan committee about Stokes’ revised plan was that he brought on board his own consultant, Reda, formerly a chef at the Buffalo Chophouse.

    Councilman Davis contacted Reda. “Davis said, ‘Meet me at BERC. They want to open this restaurant with this basketball player,’ ” Reda said.

    At the meeting, Davis and Barron asked him to help Stokes open the restaurant — even though he had not yet met Stokes, Reda said.

    Reda agreed, but progress was slow. Stokes had hoped to open One Sunset by mid-2007. However, it took longer than he expected to get a liquor license.

    Meanwhile, Stokes was falling behind in his rent payments.

    Then, in September 2007 — even before receiving his $40,000 loan — BERC gave Stokes the $30,000 grant. That money came from funds originally earmarked for the Ellicott District.

    The grant was designated for furnishings. Everything had to be replaced — carpet, furniture, bar stools, Stokes said.

    Barron was involved in it all. Reda was puzzled by her role.

    “I sat down with her and brought in vendors, and she was negotiating,” he said. “She filled out his paperwork and applications.”

    Reda concluded BERC was helping run the business.

    “He couldn’t get it done by himself,” Reda said of Stokes.

    Early on, Barron exchanged e-mails with a vendor about bar stools. “What’s the turnaround time for ordering bar stools,” Barron asked a Details Contract Furnishings agent in a Sept. 10, 2007, e-mail message.

    Barron later helped decorate the restaurant, Reda said.

    “She was there every day painting stools, decorating the bathroom,” he said.

    One Sunset opens

    Stokes’ liquor license finally arrived in December 2007. Three days later, so did the $40,000 loan. Stokes said the money went quickly. “It didn’t really do much,” Stokes said. “It was gone in four days.”

    Mayor Brown was on hand at One Sunset’s opening ceremony in mid-December.

    “It’s young entrepreneurs like Leonard that are so important to the revitalization of our economy, and I am looking forward to seeing his venture grow and be successful,” Brown said at the time.

    The bills, meanwhile, piled up.

    A month after the restaurant opened, One Sunset asked BERC’s small-loan committee for another $40,000. One source said food suppliers were threatening to no longer deliver because they had not been paid for previous orders. Even the phone service was shut off.

    By the end of its first month in business, the restaurant had lost more than $88,000, according to a financial report dated the following July.

    On Jan. 12, the loan committee, after some rancor, approved the second $40,000 loan, bringing Stokes’ total loan to $80,000.

    Financial problems continued.

    In May, Sysco Food Services of Jamestown got a judgment against One Sunset for $8,447.

    Budget Blinds e-mailed Barron threatening to go to court over a breached payment agreement.

    Unpaid sales tax the restaurant owed the state totaled more than $17,000.

    Barron’s presence at the restaurant also continued.

    “She made sure we were paid,” said Ingrao, one of the bartenders. “She wrote all the checks for everything.”

    In fact, when the phone service was cut, Reda said, he called Barron, then drove to City Hall, where she handed him a money order to pay the $400 bill.

    Barron’s e-mails also showed her involvement with the restaurant’s bookkeeper, trying to figure out how to deal with vendors demanding payment of overdue bills.

    “All of the creditors need to be contacted regarding a payment plan,” she wrote in one e-mail.

    Stokes dismissed accounts Barron played a hands-on role in the restaurant’s operation as “flat out rumor.”

    “She would come in and give guidance. Pop in on weekends. See how it was going,” he said. “Her thing may have been getting too close to the staff.”

    Barron said she made only occasional visits to the restaurant in an official, arms-length capacity.

    Despite the financial pressure, Stokes didn’t give up.

    He said he spent an additional $67,000 of his money, on top of his initial $80,000 investment.

    “I’m looking at it, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s hope.’ It was my first venture, so I kept pushing,” he said.

    Barron kept pushing, too.

    Plenty of bills left

    In the summer of 2008, Barron lobbied for One Sunset to get yet more government help, this time a minority entrepreneurial loan from the Erie County IDA.

    The loan was a “last stand” to keep the restaurant open. “We were majorly in the hole at that time,” Stokes said. “I could stay open with an infusion.”

    Barron was one of two BERC officials on an IDA advisory committee, and she pushed for the loan. She did not mention the restaurant was losing money, IDA officials said.

    The IDA in August approved a $50,000 loan for One Sunset, one of 10 businesses to get a loan out of about 70 businesses that applied.

    “At this point I was not aware of any problems financially,” Barron said of the restaurant’s financial condition.

    Stokes received the $50,000 on Aug. 27. His first loan repayment to the IDA in September cleared. His second payment, in October, bounced.

    By late October, Kevin Brinkworth, Stokes’ landlord, hadn’t seen a rent check in several months, either. So he initiated eviction proceedings.

    Davis wrote a check for $3,500 to cover the November rent, and Brinkworth backed off.

    The check bounced. The restaurant closed in early December 2008, leaving behind a stack of unpaid bills.

    “I personally think Leonard Stokes is a pretty honorable kid,” Brinkworth said. “But I don’t think he had a clue what he was doing. I think people took advantage of him.” and

  • Mr.Justice

    Kern is from the past; old and washed up. We have serious City Hall issues here hopefully AV will look into this further or will they fight over a article Gramigna wrote with no name mentioned. A article nobody reads or cares about,nor does anybody care about Kern who is just as crazy as Gramigna

  • Dick Kern

    There has been a powerful appearance that “Mr Justice” is actually Syaed Ali.

    If he indeed cares about ‘justice’ he will reveal his true identity.

  • Whoever is trying to comfort himself with the notion that Dick Kern is washed up and/or an outdated relic is seriously delusional. I have followed this guy mostly through AV’s coverage and he is not anyone that will be dismissed with smart aleck remarks or even flat out political bullying and intimidation tactics. Good luck Mr. Justice if you really think you put the pit bull in the back yard and it’s all over, you are in for a major wakeup call.

  • Peter A Reese

    I don’t know. Dick could be out of date and washed up. I think Artvoice should commission a poll to see if he is the now thing for today or just yesterday’s news. BTW have you ever noticed that you never see Kern when you see Jimmy Carter? What does that tell you?

  • Dick Kern

    I am considering a visit to Bflo during the “Ex-Pat weekend” (6/125-29).

    What are the odds that I will be ‘kidnapped’by Bflo cops & the NYS AG for prolonged interrogation, as allaegedly suffered by Syad Ali, based on Glenn Gramigna’s “expose” that I am the actual alleged author of those dispicible anonymous Byron-gay-sex-emails sent areound last summer?

    Here is the latest I have discovered about Gramigna & his longtime former, now estranged, employer Joseph Illuzzi. They both are having serious problems paying their taxes. A freind updated my info with . . . “the Illuzzi lien for $16,669.31 is a federal tax lien for the years ending 12/31/06 and 12/31/07. The other one in the amount of $7,276.45 is a New York State Tax Warrant for the periods ending 12/31/05, 12/31/06, and 12/31/07”.

    Here i what I found on the County Clerk’s site:


    From: KernwatchMN
    Sent: 5/29/2009 10:46:18 A.M. Central Daylight Time

    Subj: Illuzzi: new $16,669 & $7276 liens (1/15 & 1/16/09)

    Joseph Illuzzi’s “politicians-pay-for-praise” business is again faltering. He has had two new liens on top of his many historic liens, and a court appearance on 5/14.

    According to his website is struggling badly.

    His pageviews and estimated worth are: 186 pageviews, down from 238 two weeks earlier, estimated value $1803 198, down from 246 two weeks earlier, value $1891 158 down from 177, value $1803

    TOTALS: 562 daily pageviews, estimated worth $6,000

    Former Illuzzi partner Glenn Gramigna’s (Democrat) pay-for-praise site is struggling as well. He has a single lien for $193.

    On 5/27 his had an estimated daily 515 page views, down from 599 two weeks earlier, and an estimated value of $2394.

    Interestingly, Gramigna now lives at 354 Hoyt in my old neighborhood in a three family investment house owned by a close Parlato relative & house flipping partner, as Gramigna is taking on the Niagara Reporter, where Frank Parlato Jr is a major force.

    That is one of ever more indications of Gramigna’s poor judgment . . . as well as his lack of ethics.

    Will his exposing the incredible news that I wrote the disgusting anonymous Byron-gay-sex-emails last summer (his anonymous source likely Syaed Ali) boast his stats?

    Interestingly, the City Comptroller advertises on both Illuzzi & Gramigna sites, altho his aide & in-house campaign manager Tony Farina apparently no longer writes sports columns for Illuzzi.

    Does that mean that SanFilippo, as he plans to audit BERC, approves of such dubious businesses? What does he pay Illuzzi & Gramigna for their services?

    R Kern


    Pty Code Party Name Group Record date Bk Type Book Page Legal Desc Ref 1 Ref 2 Status
    D ILLUZZI JOSEPH J LIEN 01/15/2009 Q 203 5785 FTL505040709 V
    D ILLUZZI JOSEPH J LIEN 01/16/2009 Q 203 6493 V
    D ILLUZZI JOSEPH J COURT 05/14/2009 K 115 8265 I 2006011305 V


    Doc Type: 817
    Doc Group: LIEN
    CFN: 2009009033
    Date/Time: 01/15/2009 15:39
    Book Type: Q
    Book/Page: 203/5785
    Pages: 2
    Consideration: $16669.31
    Status: V
    TT ID#:
    Tax ID#: FTL505040709
    Legal 1:

    PO BOX 391 BUFFALO NY 14209-0391

    Doc Type: 108
    Doc Group: LIEN
    CFN: 2009009609
    Date/Time: 01/16/2009 10:58

    Original Amt: $7276.45
    BOX 391 STATION C BUFFALO NY 14209-0391

    Doc Type: 108
    Doc Group: LIEN
    CFN: 2008248401
    Date/Time: 12/10/2008 14:37

    Original Amt: $192.56

    354 HOYT ST BUFFALO NY 14213-1245

  • intersting

    Doc Type 817= FEDERAL TX LIEN

    Doc Type: 817
    Doc Group: UCC
    CFN: 199808140354
    Date/Time: 08/14/1998 10:15
    Book Type: Q
    Book/Page: 52/2120
    Pages: 0
    Consideration: $5533.52
    Status: B
    TT ID#:
    Tax ID#: FTL169830091
    Legal 1:

    354 BAYNES ST BUFFALO NY 14213-1247

    Long Legal 1 Town Map/Hostel/Parcel Zip Prop Type

    View Linked CFN Type Book Page
    View 199810160107 818

    Doc Type: 205
    Doc Group: COURT
    CFN: 200003311221
    Date/Time: 03/31/2000 3:54
    Book Type:
    Book/Page: /
    Updated Date:
    Status: B
    Index #: SC2000000172
    ASG CAL#:

    354 BAYNES ST BUFFALO NY 14213

    Long Legal 1 Town Map/Hostel/Parcel Zip Prop Type
    CTY 1

    06012000 DECISION
    602 120547NJJ

    Correction Date/Time Correction Text Reference
    2000-06-02 12:05:58.000000 DOCUMENT CHANGED
    2000-06-02 12:05:47.000000 REFERENCE CHANGED
    2000-06-02 12:05:28.000000 DOCUMENT CHANGED