Mar 23


Ex-con councilman turned pot lobbyist

Tony Masiello's payroll includes Brian Davis, the former city lawmaker who still appears to owe more than $30,000 in restitution for stealing anti-poverty funds. He's lobbying on behalf of a would-be pot farmer seeking a government contract.

A decade ago, former Ellicott District Common Council Member Brian C. Davis pled guilty to stealing $48,237 in anti-poverty funds from the city. He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay restitution.  

Davis served his time. But he hasn’t finished paying back what he stole, according to a March 2021 court filing.

Happily, at least for the taxpayers he still owes, Davis has a new gig that might help him settle the bill: as a lobbyist for a proposed South Buffalo marijuana farm run by the southern California-based son of a politically wired Buffalo real-estate developer.

The sponsor of Davis’s new career is Anthony Masiello, the former Buffalo mayor who leads Masiello, Martucci and Associates, Western New York’s premier lobbying firm

Last May, according to disclosure forms filed with the state, Masiello’s firm hired Davis as a subcontractor to assist the firm with one of its clients, ZG Investors, LLC. 

That company is run by Brad Termini, the son of prominent Buffalo developer Rocco Termini. Brad Termini and his partners plan to build a marijuana growing operation on 47 acres in South Buffalo. 

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ZG Investors has paid Masiello’s firm well over $100,000 since the project was first announced in 2018, to help win the necessary state and city approvals. In 2019, the rate was as high as $7,000 per month, plus expenses.

In December 2020, however, during the pandemic shutdowns, the rate was reduced to $100 per month.

Then, last April — shortly after the state Legislature and the governor came to an agreement to legalize recreational marijuana — Masiello filed a disclosure form indicating the sum had jumped back to $3,000 per month

Two weeks after that, Masiello reported the firm had hired One Call-IT, an information technology company Davis formed a year earlier, as a subcontractor for $2,000 per month. The term of the subcontract was one year, expiring at the end of next month, for a total of $24,000.

Davis’s job, according to disclosure reports, is to lobby Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes on behalf of Termini’s project. 

Peoples-Stokes is a leading architect of the state’s recreational marijuana laws, passed last year, and is expected to exercise considerable influence in deciding who will profit from the newly legal industry. She has formed a political action committee to “support candidates, issues, and legislation that allows individuals and communities most harmed by cannabis prohibition to gain the most in New York’s cannabis industry.”

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In an email to Investigative Post, Masiello said Davis is “an independent contract lobbyist doing business development for our firm,” who has initiated “numerous conversations with prospective clients.” 

Masiello described himself as Termini’s “point person” in Western New York. 

“Brian has assisted me in setting up meetings and doing research on the cannabis issue,” the former mayor wrote. 

Davis is a past president of Grassroots, the political club that gave rise to the careers of Peoples-Stokes and Mayor Byron Brown, among others. Davis represented the Ellicott District on Buffalo’s Common Council from 2001 to 2009. He resigned after pleading guilty to misdemeanor misuse of campaign funds, though that was not the full extent of his legal and financial troubles

He was at the center of the scandal surrounding One Sunset, a restaurant and bar opened by former basketball player Leonard Stokes with city grants and loans. Davis steered $30,000 in anti-poverty funds earmarked for his East Side district to the Gates Circle venture. At one point, as the poorly managed establishment was failing, Davis wrote a personal check to the landlord to cover a month’s rent. His check bounced. 

The restaurant closed after less than a year, despite $160,000 in loans from the city-run Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. The debacle contributed to the shutdown of the agency.

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In 2011, Davis was indicted in federal court for funneling city money into his own pockets, using not-for-profits, friends and family members as accomplices. In May 2012 he was sentenced to a year and a day in jail and ordered to pay back the $48,237 he’d stolen.

In October 2018, federal prosecutors reported to U.S. District Court Justice William Skretny that Davis still owed the city $39,031. Skretny ordered that Davis’s wages be garnished

Over the next two years, the court recovered $8,303.93 through Davis’s then employer, WNY MRI, LLP, according to a “final accounting” filed in federal court last March. (On his LinkedIn page, Davis describes himself as a “director” of the radiology company.) The garnishment ceased in May 2020, around the time Davis took a job with HarpData, an IT firm that failed to fulfill a critical contract with Buffalo Public Schools

In September 2020, as HarpData — reeling from judgments secured by disgruntled clients and business partners — was “winding down” operations, Davis registered One Call-IT Solutions as a limited liability corporation. 

The information technology company has no website. Calls to the phone number listed for One Call-IT on disclosure forms were not returned.

After two years of wage garnishment, it appears Davis still owes taxpayers more than $30,000, according to public records.

A lien against Davis for the original restitution amount, filed in 2012, has not been discharged, according to county records. A clerk for Judge Skretny confirmed that the U.S. Attorney has not notified the court that Davis has finished paying off the debt.