BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - A former top aide at Buffalo City Hall has admitted stealing from taxpayers.
Tim Wanamaker pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges on Tuesday, stemming from a long-running investigation into the millions of dollars the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sends to the city each year. At City Hall, it has touched off speculation of: who's next?
Wanamaker served as Director of Strategic Planning under former Mayor Anthony Masiello and was appointed the president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation under Mayor Byron Brown. Wanamaker has pleaded guilty to ringing up more than $30,000 in unauthorized travel expenses on BERC's corporate credit card for himself and family members.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said, "And it included such things as excessive lodging, car rentals, and other forms of expenses."
Government prosecutors contend Wanamaker stole the money by hiding the unauthorized charges from city watchdogs, for years. Wanamaker left Buffalo City Hall in 2008 for a manager's job in California.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Campana said, "And being the president of BERC, and the principal officer there, he did not have anyone directly supervising him, and that is what enabled him to get away with it for as long as he did."
Common Council President David Franczyk added, "I didn't know he was a crook, and I never cared for him because he took monies away from housing groups in my district for his own purposes."
Wanamaker's guilty plea serves as vindication for Franczyk and other opposition members of the Common Council who were alarmed at the travel expenses BERC was running up and the questionable results from the agency. So they demanded an accounting.
Delaware District Councilman Michael LoCurto said, "There was a lot of money going to BERC and they were not getting a lot of results. They were getting a lot of economic development money for business loans, but they were not making a lot of loans."
"Many councilmembers travel now use our own money to do these type of trips, some reimbursement sometimes, but you never use a city credit card to stay extra days at the Ritz Carlton. That is just preposterous," stated Lovejoy District Councilman Richard Fontana.
As part of his guilty plea, Wanamaker has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities investigating City Hall. Wanamaker's sentencing date is set for March 16th and he could get as much as 10 years in prison.
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