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Syaed Ali: Muddying the Waters

Cutting through the rumors, establishing credibility, closing in on WNYFirst

Syaed Ali, of course, is the guy we first wrote about on January 9: He’s the young man from a Bangladeshi family who lives on Breckenridge Street, and is accused of emailing fake press releases making salacious allegations about the private life of Mayor Byron Brown last summer. On November 7, Buffalo Police, armed with a search warrant signed by City Court Judge Craig Hannah, a Brown appointee, ransacked Ali’s house, confiscated his and his family’s possessions, took Ali downtown, and questioned him for several hours. No arrest, no arrest warrant, no lawyers, no phone call. Going on four months later, Ali still has not been charged and Buffalo Police have returned none of his and his family’s possessions.

Ali began talking to AV in January and hasn’t stopped talking. This, while certainly Ali’s right, presents something of a problem for the lawyer he’s retained, Richard Grimm III of the firm Magavern Magavern & Grimm: All this talking with the media runs the risk of compromising the lawsuit they intend to file, if Ali’s narrative changes over time in even the slightest detail.

The attention Ali has demanded for his case drew the interest of Chris Smith, who blogs under the name Buffalo Geek at On Monday Smith dove into one of the many deep pools of weirdness in the case. Here’s the gist: Ali’s claims about his IT business, SAIL-IT Inc., seem grossly exaggerated. As a result, Smith argues, Ali’s credibility suffers.

Happily for Ali and his lawyer, the other side of the case has not fared much better, in terms of establishing credibility.

After insisting that he could not speak about an ongoing investigation, or even acknowledge that there was one, Buffalo Police spokesman Mike DeGeorge went ahead and told other media that the investigation was heading in the direction of aggravated harassment and criminal impersonation, and that the involvement of state and federal agencies might lead to further charges.

That last part turned out not to be true: The same week that DeGeorge made this statement, both state and federal law enforcement agencies made it clear to me that they have no continuing interest in the Syaed Ali case.

A little over a week ago, a new rumor surfaced that a state law enforcement agency had become involved, and that local politicians had been summoned to speak to this agency about their relationship and correspondence with Ali.

This turns out to be untrue as well. If local state law enforcement agents are investigating, they are acting without the blessing or knowledge of their superiors: Representatives from the New York State Police and the New York State Attorney General’s office told me last week, categorically and on the record, that their agencies are not involved in the case—not on any level, local or otherwise.

A source with firsthand knowledge says that this rumor originated in the mayor’s camp, which hopes to trace those salacious emails through Syaed Ali to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, the mayor’s chief Democratic rival. (Hoyt has denied any role in the emails, and says he met Ali once last summer, for about 20 minutes; Hoyt says he was curious about Ali’s part in an effort to draft New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to run for president.) If someone in City Hall is spreading false rumors about the case, that suggests they have something to hide.

Most importantly, no one yet has denied the events of November 7. No one has refuted Ali’s story of his detention and the confiscation of his and his family’s possessions—on the contrary, Buffalo Police acknowledge possession of the materials they seized from Ali’s house, though their inventory is much shorter than the list of items missing produced by Ali and his family. No one so far has produced the affidavit that backs the search warrant signed by Hannah. No one has yet explained how sending fraudulent press releases to a wide distribution list is criminal.

Whatever the claims Ali makes about his business, true or false; whether or not he sent those emails, and whether or not Sam Hoyt conspired with him or had knowledge of what he was going to do; regardless of the sordid playground politics that underpin this whole affair: If Ali’s claims about what happened to him on November 7 are true, then anyone party to the search of his house and his detention may be in big trouble.

Grimm filed a notice of claim against the City of Buffalo in December. The lawsuit will proceed in April. If he and Ali can hold on until then, much more of the story will become public record.

Meanwhile, the author of those salacious emails about Byron Brown is getting sloppy in covering his or her trail. In a heated exchange of comments attached to the AV Daily version of this story, a prolific defender of Ali—posting under numerous screen names but using one IP address—quotes an August 19 email sent by WNYMedia’s owner, Marc Odien, to the author of the emails, who used the name WNYFirst. That email is by no means unavailable; I have a copy of WNYFirst’s reply to Odien in my email from August 20. But it’s not widely circulated: Probably no more than a dozen members of the local media received the BCCed response from WNYFirst that I received. And Odien did not send his initial email to anyone but WNYFirst.

It seems likely that anyone who is able and inclined to quote directly from that email either is, or is sitting very close to, WNYFirst.

geoff kelly

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