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CDR vs.

Maggie Brooks dispute takes twisted turn

David Andreatta • Staff writer • August 29, 2010

Days after Monroe County abruptly canceled a lucrative contract with the Center for Disability
Rights, the organization's top two executives met a self-proclaimed private eye at a Rochester
airport hotel and a deal was struck to pay her $4,000 to unearth damaging information about
County Executive Maggie Brooks and her administration.

"They wanted me to dig up dirt," the investigator, Susan Stiles, said recently over a lunch of
stuffed mushrooms and a cosmopolitan at an Orleans County lakefront restaurant.

Neither side got what it expected, the police were called, and the deal unraveled into a tangled
web that ensnared a maintenance manager at a prominent city law firm and a top aide to Mayor
Robert Duffy.

Details of the agreement and its fallout were pieced together through interviews and a Rochester
police report obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle under the Freedom of Information Law.

The episode is the latest outgrowth of an ugly contract dispute between the county and CDR
that has been punctuated by dueling publicity stunts and personal animus for more than a

In an interview, Brooks called the scenario "a deeply disturbing set of events" and said the
matter is now being examined by the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

'Opposition research'

The police report, dated Aug. 4, recounts that CDR Chief Operating Officer Chris Hilderbrant
struck the deal "due to recent media attention" and hired Stiles after getting what he described
as a favorable reference for her from the mayor's assistant, Darryl Porter. In separate interviews,
Hilderbrant and Stiles explained that she called Hilderbrant with an offer to help conduct
"opposition research" on the county and Brooks, and provided Porter as a reference.

Stiles, who also uses the name Wendy Howe, is not a licensed private investigator. She said she
is a former chef who began political researching five years ago, but is currently unemployed.
She said she has been living out of hotels for a year for fear of retribution from her

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"She gave me a reference that was somebody pretty decently connected," Hilderbrant said,
acknowledging Porter by name. "He (Porter) said, 'Yeah, she's got good information.' So I hired

Hilderbrant said his conversation with Porter was brief and by phone, and that he inquired about
Stiles' "knowledge base and her ability to get information" without sharing his interest in her
with Porter.

In a telephone interview, Porter characterized Stiles as "an acquaintance" he knows only as

Wendy Howe. He said he met her four years ago at a city-sponsored music concert and that
their interactions since have been largely limited to phone conversations she initiated to discuss
city issues and politics.
Porter recalled that Hilderbrant asked him for a character reference for Stiles and that her
investigative prowess never came up.

"I said I'd never had a problem with her," Porter said. "He (Hilderbrant) didn't ask me to verify
her work, whatever that might be. Right now, I couldn't even tell you what she does for a

On July 22, the county cut short its contract with CDR to administer a home health-attendant
program, citing "widespread lapses in client care." The organization has denied the charges and
has since taken legal action on the contract, which was worth upward of $14 million annually
paid by the state.

Hilderbrant said he hoped Stiles could unearth information that would confirm the
organization's suspicions that the county terminated the contract in retaliation for CDR's
outspoken advocacy, some of which has been critical of county government.

"This person portrayed to me that she had information to that effect," Hilderbrant said. "It's not
something I had ever done before and, based on this experience, is something I'd never do

About a week after the contract dispute exploded in the media, Hilderbrant and CDR's chief
executive officer, Bruce Darling, met Stiles behind the Quality Inn on Chili Avenue, where she
had been living out of Room 260 for weeks.
"They told me what they wanted, they gave me $500, and I went to work," Stiles recalled.

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Hilderbrant said he could not recall how much he gave Stiles to get started, but that he paid for
her with his own money. He said Darling joined him for support and was not involved in
negotiating the deal.

In a telephone interview, Darling denied having any knowledge of how much Stiles was to be
paid or what her information was to entail.

"All I knew was that this woman had said there was a conspiracy (about the CDR contract) and
that she was willing to share that information if she were paid," Darling said. "I didn't pay a lot
of attention to the details. I was freaked out and anxious about where we were located."

A falling-out

Hilderbrant agreed to pay Stiles $4,000, according to the police report. Hilderbrant said in an
interview that the amount was conditional on information she could provide.

But when Hilderbrant paid only $900 and declined any further services a few days later because
he was disappointed in the quality of the information Stiles provided, she demanded the rest of
her money in subsequent phone calls and text messages, according to the report.

Neither Stiles nor Hilderbrant would divulge what information they exchanged, but Stiles
characterized it as noteworthy while Hilderbrant cast it as immaterial.

A day before he contacted police, Hilderbrant received what he perceived to be two threatening
voicemails from a man whom Hilderbrant said identified himself as Stiles' lawyer. The man
demanded that Hilderbrant pay or "have a sit down meeting that would not be pleasant,"
according to the report.

Unnerved by the messages, Hilderbrant reached out to Molly Clifford, the city's director of fire
administration and liaison to the disabled community, who put him in touch with Police Chief
David Moore.
"She is somebody who understands who in city government to turn to for different concerns,"
Hilderbrant said.

Clifford said she considers Hilderbrant a friend, and recalled getting a call from him on Aug. 3
complaining that he had received threatening messages and wanted to talk to the police.

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Clifford said she inferred from her conversation with Hilderbrant that his concerns were related
to CDR's contract dispute, but that Hilderbrant never explained his relationship with his alleged

"He said that this woman had called and said that she had some information ... but that was
about the extent of what he told me," Clifford said. "He never revealed what information she
claimed to have."

Aggravated harassment

The police recorded the incidents as second-degree aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor, and
listed Stiles as the prime suspect. But no charges were pressed. Unlike for domestic disputes,
the law does not require police to make an arrest on a misdemeanor if the victim does not want
to press charges. In this case, Hilderbrant declined to press charges and the case was closed,
according to police.

Moore said in an interview that he assigned an officer to follow up on the complaint because
Hilderbrant told him he had no relationship or financial agreement with the alleged suspects.

"Chris told me one thing, and it ended up being something else," Moore said. "Basically, I was
not given the information truthfully."

In the end, Moore said, police determined that the issue was not a criminal matter because Stiles
had been hired and that the subsequent demands for money appeared related to an alleged
breach of contract and contained no evidence of threats of physical harm.

"I believe that you had two people involved in a civil situation, and that's something the police
should not be involved in," Moore said.

Hilderbrant denied ever saying that he had no relationship with the suspects, but insisted he did
not know the man who identified himself as Stiles' lawyer.

"If this had just been about a work agreement, I would not have involved the police,"
Hilderbrant said.

Nevertheless, police did inform Stiles and urged her to cease contact with Hilderbrant. Both
said they have not had contact since.

Police also contacted a second suspect identified in the report only as "John," the man
Hilderbrant said identified himself as Stiles' lawyer.

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One of the phone numbers police listed for the suspect was registered to the Rochester law firm
of McConville, Considine, Cooman & Morin, and included an extension for John Cole, the
firm's facilities and equipment coordinator.

Reached by phone at work last week, Cole denied posing as a lawyer and threatening violence.
He said a police officer contacted him by phone and told him there would be no charges brought
if he stopped calling Hilderbrant. Cole said he agreed.
"He owed a friend of mine some money. I wanted to go have a talk with him. That was the
extent of it," Cole said. "I made a mistake and that's it."

The county reacts

Although the complaint was lodged Aug. 4, it would be nine days before Brooks administration
officials would learn from police that the county executive was cited in a police report as the
target of a research expedition gone awry.

Brooks said she initiated contact with Moore on Aug. 13 after hearing rumors of the report. Her
calendar, obtained under a public records request, shows that the two met in her office on Aug.
19, at which time she said she was given a copy of the report.

Brooks called the lag time "disappointing," but said more disturbing was the report's mention of
city officials and her own unanswered questions surrounding the motive behind the deal.

"I think it raises questions as to the involvement and knowledge at City Hall of this information
and what, if anything, they did to intervene," Brooks said.

"Why do you look for damaging information if you're not going to use it in an unethical way, if
you're not going to use it to potentially blackmail and coerce?" Brooks asked later.

The report states that Hilderbrant engaged Stiles because "she would be able to get damaging
information about the County of Monroe and Maggie Brooks." There is no mention of
blackmail or coercion.

Moore acknowledged that police did not notify Brooks, but said there is no protocol for such
notification. He added that he initially believed the target of the research was the county
government, not Brooks.

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"It depends on the circumstances, quite frankly," Moore said. "At some point, I'm sure the
discussions would have made it over to the county executive's office. I was concerned with
documenting the circumstances, and I didn't feel that anyone was in harm's way."

Mayoral spokesman Gary Walker called any insinuation of Duffy administration involvement
in the matter "really offensive."

"The city has no role in this absurd situation whatsoever," Walker said. "Any attempt by any
individual or organization to link the city to this scheme will be directly and forcefully
responded to on a variety of levels."

Walker went on to say that he learned of the matter from a reporter, and that the mayor learned
of it from the police chief after Brooks had called the chief.

Brooks said administration officials met with State Police and District Attorney Mike Green last
week, and that the matter was referred to the Sheriff's Office for review.

Sheriff's Lt. Paul Delella said the case is being examined for "current or future criminal actions
and/or security threats against County Executive Maggie Brooks."


Includes reporting by staff writer Steve Orr.

Police Report available at the following link: