The state and federal probe involving the Grassroots political club took a step further Wednesday, when the president of the East Side organization was subpoenaed.
Grassroots President Willie N. Morris acknowledged receiving the subpoena, but declined to answer any further questions.
“I’d rather not discuss,” he said. “I’m not sure where it’s going or what it’s about.”
The subpoena comes almost a week after federal agents raided the Grassroots headquarters at 339 Genesee St. on June 15, as well as two other locations – the Urban Chamber of Commerce at 1325 Main St. and a private home at 64 Meech St.
The home is owned by Maurice L. Garner, a political operative who was instrumental in the founding of both Grassroots and the Urban Chamber. Garner was not arrested. He has not been available for comment since the raids.
Morris, 63, became Grassroots president 3-1/2 years ago.
In addition to serving as Grassroots president, Morris is employed as a contract compliance monitor with the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority.
The FBI last week acknowledged the June 15 morning raids, but declined to comment on the target or what investigators were looking for. Agents were seen leaving Grassroots and the Urban Chamber carrying boxes and computers.
“I can assure you that Grassroots has done nothing illegal,” Morris said following the raid. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”
Grassroots started decades ago as an alternative to Buffalo’s African-American leadership at the time, quickly gaining stature and influence on the local political scene.
Over time, the group’s clout continued to grow, reaching the point where one of its leaders, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, was elected to the state Assembly and another, Byron W. Brown, became a state senator and eventually Buffalo’s first African-American mayor.
Brown, who is a long-time friend of Garner’s, has said he was stunned to learn of the raid.
“I certainly was shocked by it. I was very surprised by it,” Brown said last week.
Garner served as a senior executive assistant to then-County Executive Dennis T. Gorski and later as a deputy comptroller at Buffalo City Hall, a post many thought was linked to his political alliance with G. Steve Pigeon, a former Erie County Democratic chairman and political operative who is now facing political corruption charges.
Garner is also part of a consulting firm, Urban Visions for Tomorrow, as well as Garner Associates, a political consulting firm, both operating out of his home.