Erie County sheriff's officials said Friday they have found no evidence that a deputy arrested for heroin possession was selling drugs or bringing them into the county jail, where he worked.
Deputy James Riesz, 38, of Sterling Avenue in North Buffalo, was arrested late Thursday afternoon on Buffalo's West Side, after being accused of buying heroin. He has been suspended without pay.
During his initial federal court appearance on Friday, Riesz was described by a prosecutor as a longtime heroin addict.
His arrest followed a joint probe by the Sheriff's Office and FBI agents, who said they have watched and followed Riesz on several occasions since Sept. 20.
"At this point, there is nothing to suggest that he was distributing the narcotics or bringing them into the jail," Sheriff Timothy B. Howard said. "I'm not trying to minimize his actions, but his involvement was not part of a larger narcotics-distribution network."
Wearing rumpled street clothes, Riesz appeared briefly before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. A plea of not guilty was entered.
Riesz told the judge he makes $48,000 a year but is virtually penniless, with no savings, no car and a $130-a-month payment he is required to make because he borrowed money from his pension.
According to court papers, authorities began investigating Riesz in August, after receiving a tip that a deputy named "Jim R." was a regular buyer and user of heroin.
Agents conducted surveillance on Riesz on Sept. 20, Sept. 28, Oct. 18, and on Thursday, following him as he drove a blue van to meetings in several locations in the city. Agents said they stopped and searched Riesz, seizing several small bags of heroin, after watching him meet with a man on Grant Street Thursday.
The FBI developed information about Riesz's alleged heroin use earlier this week and immediately called the Sheriff's Office with that information.
Authorities said a "user amount" of heroin was recovered.
After the arrest, Undersheriff Richard T. Donovan suspended him immediately without pay. Howard said similar conduct typically results in an employee's termination from the department.
Before his arraignment Friday, Riesz spent Thursday night in the Niagara County Jail. Schroeder ordered Riesz to be jailed without bail until his next court appearance Monday. The judge said he will appoint an attorney to represent Riesz, but added that Riesz will have to pay part of the expense.
Riesz had about $1,400 on cash when he was arrested, Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Lynch said. Lynch added that Riesz gave federal agents incorrect information that a handgun and a shotgun were stored at his house.
Riesz was hired by the Buffalo Police Department in 1994 and joined the Sheriff's Office in September 2003, when the sheriff took over the Buffalo police cell block and Central Booking operations, sheriff's officials said.
Howard emphasized that such an arrest should not reflect on all the employees in his department. "It's unfortunate at this time that individuals in all kinds of employment occasionally give in to a desire to use drugs," the sheriff said.
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