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SUSPENDED OFFICER ACCUSED IN THEFT FROM DRUG CUSTOMER

A suspended Buffalo police officer is accused of taking part in a $14,000 drug swindle while he was on-duty, in uniform and using his marked police cruiser.

Federal prosecutors said Ronald Funderburk, 39, is accused of helping his brother-in-law -- an accused cocaine trafficker -- steal money from a drug customer last June.

"The evidence indicates that (Funderburk) and his brother-in-law conspired together on a scheme involving a street traffic stop to steal $14,000," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Clare Kane said.

Funderburk "categorically" denies any wrongdoing, said his attorney, Paul J. Cambria.

"He maintains that all his actions were innocent. He looks forward to clearing his name and resuming his career in public service as a police officer," Cambria said.

Funderburk is described by supporters as a solid citizen, a military veteran who served in Bosnia and a six-year police veteran with a good service record.

A felony drug-conspiracy indictment against Funderburk was made public Thursday. Funderburk has been suspended with pay since last August, when he was arrested in a drug case with his brother-in-law, Frederick Nolley III, and 40 other people. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is handling the case.

The charges announced in August accused Funderburk of helping Nolley sell drugs by giving him tips on how to avoid police scrutiny. Now he is additionally charged with using his position as a police officer to help Nolley steal money last June 3.

DEA agents have evidence that, on that date, Nolley arranged to meet with a drug customer who was going to pay him $14,000 for some drugs, Kane said.

The money was given to Nolley at a meeting in Delaware Park. Authorities believe that Nolley and his customer were then driving, in separate cars, to a second location to pick up the drugs.

"Evidence indicates that Funderburk then pulled over Nolley's car on Grant Street, where Funderburk took Nolley into custody and put him into the back of his police car," Kane said. "We believe this traffic stop was prearranged by Funderburk and Nolley."

Authorities believe that the drug customer, whose name has not been released, left the scene in frustration, thinking the drug money had been legitimately seized by police. Kane said agents found a traffic ticket that Funderburk wrote against Nolley, accusing him of unlicensed operation of a car.

When asked why Funderburk pulled over his brother-in-law for a traffic stop, Cambria said the officer has a legitimate explanation. He declined to provide more detail.

"We try our cases in the courtroom, not in the newspapers," Cambria said.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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