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When it first opened, One Sunset was heralded as a long-awaited culinary addition to the Gates Circle neighborhood, an upscale restaurant where bars and clubs once dominated.
When it closed just a year later, the business left $160,000 in unpaid government grants and loans, and it soon found itself the subject of a criminal investigation.
It also led the FBI to a city lawmaker.
"We found Brian Davis almost by accident," said U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr.
Davis, who has since resigned from the Common Council, was sentenced to a year in prison Wednesday and became the second City Hall figure to be convicted as a result of the One Sunset investigation.
The other is Timothy Wanamaker, the city's former economic development chief. Like Davis, Wanamaker pleaded guilty to charges unrelated to One Sunset.
Both men admitted to stealing from the city and in the end took plea deals acknowledging their guilt.
But even prosecutors wonder: If not for One Sunset, would either official's criminal wrongdoing have been uncovered?
No one will ever know for sure, but it's clear that while the FBI's investigation into the restaurant's public subsidies never led to any charges - the investigation is still open - it did result in two unrelated but high-profile prosecutions.
Davis, a longtime Council member and one of the restaurant's biggest political backers, became the latest casualty when Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny sentenced him to prison.
"I can sum it up in four very simple words," Davis said Wednesday, "and those words are, 'I am truly sorry.'?"
Davis pleaded guilty in May to stealing $48,000 in public funds while serving as Ellicott District Council member, an admission prosecutors described as historic.
"This is an extreme case where an individual elected to represent the community abused that position and stole money which could have benefitted those residents," Hochul said after the sentencing.
In his plea deal, Davis admitted to stealing money from local community groups that received city and federal money from his Council office. After those groups received the funds, Davis arranged for them to kick back a portion of the money to him or his friends.
"Mr. Davis' actions were not, as he would have you believe, the result of sloppy bookkeeping," said Christopher M. Piehota, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo. "There was a willful intent to steal money."
In sentencing Davis to a year in prison, Skretny gave him closer to the minimum than the maximum allowed by federal sentencing guidelines, which called for a term of 10 to 16 months.
"It's a sad day when a former public official comes to federal court for sentencing," the judge said. "It's the breach of public trust. You misused it and abused it."
Federal prosecutors sought two years in prison, a tougher-than-normal sentence, and like Skretny, they pointed to Davis' abuse of his office and the people he was elected to serve.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell T. Ippolito Jr. also cited the lawmaker's efforts at hiding his wrongdoing - he used "pass-through agencies" and friends and associates to cash checks on his behalf - and his 2009 state court conviction for pocketing campaign contributions and filing false financial-disclosure reports with the state.
"This was not an accident. This was not sloppy bookkeeping," Ippolito told Skretny. "The defendant acted thoughtfully and intentionally in stealing the city's money."
Ippolito was responding to Davis' contention that the taxpayer money deposited in his personal bank account was always intended for community groups in his district.
"He had so much going on, he just dumped it into his private account," said Kimberly A. Schechter, an assistant federal public defender. "The problem is he's a doer. He's not a detail person. It got sloppy, and it got criminal."
Schechter asked for a nonprison sentence of community service and probation. In seeking leniency, she pointed to his public humiliation in the media.
"Given his conduct, the publicity seemed over the top," Schechter told Skretny.
Skretny disagreed and said the media was simply doing its job.
Davis faced up to 10 years in prison for his conviction on a single count of stealing from an organization receiving federal funds, but judicial guidelines recommended a much shorter sentence, a recommendation Skretny elected to follow. He also ordered Davis to pay back the $48,000 he stole.
"You're here because as a public official you stole money," the judge told him. "There's no question you did wrong. And there's no question this was the result of planning."
Davis acknowledged his mistake more than once and apologized to the court, the government and the people of the Ellicott District.
"I did misuse government money, and I totally accept responsibility for that," he told the judge. "There is no excuse I can come up."
At one point, when it became clear Skretny was not going to consider probation, Davis asked him to consider home confinement instead of prison.
"You honor," he said, "I plead with you for that second chance."
The judge rejected his request but gave him the opportunity to surrender to prison authorities at a later date.
The FBI, meanwhile, remains interested in One Sunset, the failed restaurant that led to Davis' and Wanamaker's convictions.
Owned by Leonard Stokes, a former high school and college basketball star who is friendly with Mayor Byron W. Brown, the restaurant is believed to still owe the city money. City officials could not be reached to confirm whether Stokes has repaid any of it. One Sunset closed in late 2008.
Brown has repeatedly denied giving Stokes special treatment.
Davis' sentencing is the result of an investigation by FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General.
email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com