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The federal government’s offer of leniency to Timothy Wanamaker, the former City Hall official who admitted stealing government money, prompted the judge in the case to raise questions today about the legitimacy of the offer.

“I’m trying to determine if it’s warranted at all,” U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said Tuesday during the scheduled sentencing of Wanamaker. “You’re talking about a very serious case here.”

In the end, Arcara delayed the sentencing to next month so the prosecution has time to answer his questions.

Arcara, who at times became animated in questioning the federal prosecutor in the case, wondered aloud if the offer of leniency was justified given the information Wanamaker provided to federal agents. If the offer of leniency remains, Wanamaker would face up to six months, not 12 months, in prison. He also would be eligible for probation.

Wanamaker, who led the city’s economic development efforts for five years, admitted using a City Hall credit card to charge about $30,000 in personal expenses over a four-year period. He ended up pleading guilty to a felony charge of stealing government funds.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Campana said the government’s decision to offer leniency to Wanamaker, 48, is rooted in his cooperation regarding an investigation into Buffalo’s use of federal funds.

He told the judge that the information Wanamaker provided federal agents led to substantial changes in how Buffalo and other cities across the country handle funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“On account of this case, it is now more difficult for this type of thing to happen, not only in Buffalo but across the country," Campana said.

James Harrington, Wanamaker’s defense lawyer, echoed that sentiment.

“If they’re making changes across the country, perhaps we did have a national impact." Harrington told reporters.

Wanamaker’s conviction stems from his use of a BERC credit card to pay for hotel, rental car and other travel expenses unrelated to city business.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com