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Erie County DA Frank Sedita talks sociopaths, drugs and what he likes to cook

Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III is the third generation in a family of public servants. His grandfather, former mayor Frank A. Sedita, was 10 when the family moved here from New Orleans in 1911. His father, the late Frank A. Sedita Jr., was a Supreme Court justice.  

Sedita was elected district attorney in 2008 after working as assistant DA for 20 years. Named outstanding prosecutor for 2013 by the New York State Bar Association, he oversaw the prosecution of Riccardo McCray, the “City Grill shooter,” and Muzzammil Hassan, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the beheading of his wife.

He attended Canisius High School and Canisius College before graduating from the University at Buffalo Law School, where he also taught law. Sedita, 54, lives in North Buffalo with his wife, son and Stanley, their dog.

People Talk: Snazzy outfit. Who influenced your style?

Frank Sedita: My grandfather. When he was mayor, he shopped at two stores – Peller & Mure and Saks Fifth Avenue. I shop at O’Connell’s on Main Street. I even got my son to go there. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can wear the cotton suits and white bucks.

PT: I especially like the red, white and blue “vote” suspenders. Are you hinting at a run for Supreme Court justice?

FS: I am not currently running for another elected office – such as a judgeship – and have not publicly announced a candidacy for the same. As well as being DA, I am president of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York. Two elected offices and two full-time jobs is enough right now.

PT: Will your son, MacCaelin, keep the law streak alive?

FS: He’ll be 19 in the fall, and will be a freshman at George Washington University in D.C. He wants to be a physician. At some point, he wants to also serve his country. He’s hoping to be a naval officer someday, too. Public service is a thing in the family. He’s the first one who wants to do it in the military.

PT: Why don’t you have more minority prosecutors?

FS: It’s always troubled me. The first couple of years I was banging my head against the wall. I spoke to Donna Milling, who is the chief of my Appeals Bureau. She was just awarded last year the top appellate prosecutor in the state. She’s Jamaican. What she said hit me like a ton of bricks. She said that many people of color who go to law school, the last place they want to work is the prosecutor’s office because of the way minorities have been traditionally treated by law enforcement. I don’t want to be perceived as the enemy in the black community. That really concerns me.

PT: What crime is killing Buffalo?

FS: Frank Clark used to say: “But for a few neighborhoods, Buffalo has the violent crime of Iceland.” To a large extent, that is true. Crime is fueled by poverty, drugs and the competition to sell them. ... Probably 20 to 25 percent of what we prosecute is felony DWI, repeat offender DWI. From 10 to 15 percent is narcotics-based crime. ... The good news is: We’re not awash with violent crime here in Erie County. On the other hand, we seem to have a lot of drunk and high people around here.

PT: What’s with Jamestown and meth labs?

FS: Meth is the drug of choice for people who can’t get the desirable drugs. Marijuana is a whole different discussion I will have with a reporter after I am not DA. I don’t see meth as a problem in New York City, Rochester, Buffalo. Where meth is becoming popular is in the rural areas.

PT: Historically, what criminal would you have liked to prosecute?

FS: The most infamous criminal in Buffalo history, Leon Czolgosz.

PT: You must have tried some real sociopaths.

FS: We prosecuted arguably the worst criminal in modern Erie County history, (Altemio) Sanchez, the Bike Path Rapist, and also exonerated someone who spent 20 years of his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Anthony Capozzi. I had a three-hour conversation with a stone-cold serial rapist and killer, and he’s matter-of-factly describing one rape after another – a total sociopath. He’s where he deserves to be – in a state prison where he will die.

PT: After a hard day at the office, what is the first thing you do when you get home?

FS: Say hello to my wife, my son if he’s home, the dog, Stanley. I take my tie off and I pour either a scotch or a martini. It depends if my name makes the editorial page of the newspaper; that’s usually a harder day, although I have developed a thick skin through the years.

PT: Describe your personality.

FS: I try to be thoughtful. It’s difficult because I have naturally a bad temper, and I suppress the hell out of it. I get mad. I get frustrated.

PT: How do you vent?

FS: I work out. And I cook – mostly Italian but I’ll make French, Asian, Indian. I make sauce pretty much every Sunday. Sauté a couple of onions in olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, dry oregano, five cloves garlic (rough chop, not minced) and really good tomatoes.