Authorities now believe there was no theft of court documents from a Buffalo hotel suite rented by attorneys for ex-prisoners of the Attica State Correctional Facility.
Buffalo police were called Friday to the Lenox Hotel, 140 North St., to investigate allegations that someone had stolen more than 20 boxes of sensitive materials relating to the 1971 uprising at the Attica prison.
Officially, the investigation remains open. But a federal marshal who spent his Labor Day weekend working on the case said it now appears the theft report was a mistake by a hotel employee.
"Apparently, it was all a mix-up," said U.S. Marshal John McCaffrey, who is investigating with Buffalo police, other law enforcement officials, and a private investigator. "There are no records unaccounted for."
McCaffrey's comments on Tuesday were echoed by Daniel L. Meyers, a New York City attorney for ex-inmates involved in a massive lawsuit against former New York state officials.
Attorneys for the inmates voiced anger and alarm on Friday, saying more than 20 boxes of "very sensitive" records -- some of them irreplaceable -- were missing from the lawyers' rented suite at the Lenox.
"We're still conducting an internal audit of our records, but from every indication, the theft report was totally premature," Meyers said. "We're satisfied now that there was no theft."
Central District Police Capt. Michael Manzella said he could not comment on the latest developments, but said he should be able to release some information today.
The apparently incorrect crime report is the latest in a long legacy of bizarre incidents connected to the 1971 uprising and the controversial federal lawsuit that followed.
"Everything associated with this case seems to take a strange turn," noted one police official.
McCaffrey said the situation spun out of control Friday after a hotel employee spotted a man taking records out of the Lenox and loading them into a delivery truck. Jumping to the conclusion that the man was stealing records from the Attica case, the hotel official contacted police and also contacted attorneys for the inmates.
The hotel employee gave police the license plate number of the delivery truck, which led investigators to question a Varysburg truck driver. The driver told police he knew nothing about the Attica case, and had been hired by his employer, Lucas Varity, to move some documents from a different suite that Lucas Varity rents at the Lenox.
The trucker's account appears to be accurate, McCaffrey said Tuesday.
"The hotel official had good intentions, but the conclusion she reached was wrong," McCaffrey said. "The records that were being moved were not Attica records, and they were being moved legitimately."
McCaffrey was directed to look into the matter by U.S. Senior District Judge Michael A. Telesca, who is overseeing efforts to settle the long-delayed Attica lawsuit.
The case is a class-action lawsuit filed more than 25 years ago against former state prison and police officials by more than 1,200 former Attica inmates. The prisoners claim they were beaten and tortured after police and corrections officers stormed the prison to end a prisoner takeover in September 1971. Thirty-nine persons, mostly prisoners, were killed when police stormed the prison.
Telesca, who was appointed last month to oversee settlement efforts in the case, said he is pleased with the progress thus far.
"I can only tell you that lawyers on both sides have been very cooperative, and we'll be having some very serious discussion soon," Telesca said. "(U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F.) Maxwell made an effort at settling this case in 1992, and the groundwork he did has been very, very helpful to me."