Phil Fairbanks, The Buffalo News
print logo

Phil Fairbanks

Author

I cover federal courts and criminal justice issues and occasionally veer off into the world of refugees, human traffickers and streets gangs. As a product of the Watergate era, I value a newspaper's role as the community watchdog.

When Joelle Silver moved on from her teaching post in Cheektowaga, she left behind a legacy that lingers even today – a legal battle over religious free speech in the classroom. Two different federal courts – one here, the other in Manhattan – rejected her case. Yet Silver is pressing her claims that the Cheektowaga Central School District violated her rights by or…

Dellsean Hamilton is one of the faces of the opiate epidemic – but not as a victim. Investigators say he's one of the region's biggest heroin and fentanyl dealers and has been arrested three times for drug dealing. Hamilton is also the suspect who prompted public outrage when, in the midst of a series of fatal opiate overdoses, a Buffalo City Court judge set his b…

Richard L. Frey is not like most of the people who steal money and find themselves facing possible prison time. Frey is a high-profile public figure – he served as mayor of Dunkirk for 10 years – and the money he stole came from his campaign treasury. Frey is also 85 years old. On a day when the former mayor could have gone to prison for what he did, he was in…

Political operative G. Steven Pigeon wants a hearing into the newest and latest round of criminal charges against him. In a brief session in Buffalo federal court Monday, defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. asked for a preliminary hearing to evaluate the government's evidence of a crime and Pigeon's alleged role in it. Pigeon, accused of soliciting an illegal contri…

Sean P. Doctor went from professional football to fighting fires to owning his own asbestos removal company. It was the last move that led to trouble. Doctor, now 50, admitted Monday making a false statement – he filed a false hazardous waste manifest – as part of an asbestos removal project at Roosevelt Park in Buffalo in 2010. Scheduled to go on trial next …

A video shows what Matthew J. Jaskula did to Shaun P. Porter last year. Protected by a court order and still unseen by the public, the video shows Jaskula, a Buffalo cellblock attendant, assaulting Porter, a handcuffed suspect, investigators say. Later this month, Jaskula is expected to plead guilty in the case. "He's ashamed," said Paul G. Dell, Jaskula's defense…

Federal prosecutors, faced with a defense request to move the "Buffalo Billion" case from Manhattan to Buffalo, filed a new indictment Thursday. There are no new charges or defendants in the "superseding" indictment, but there were changes in how the government presents its allegations of bribery and bid rigging in Buffalo and across the state. The changes appear to …

Scott Leuthe worked as a nurse practitioner for two companies but only reported income from one. Leuthe, 45, of West Seneca, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to two years of probation and four months of home confinement for tax evasion. The defendant worked for two diagnostic imaging businesses in Western New York from 2008 through 2011…

A nurse practitioner from West Seneca admitted Thursday he wrote fake prescriptions for fentanyl. Brandon Coburn, 34, also admitted taking part in a conspiracy that federal investigators say resulted in the fentanyl being sold illegally on the streets of Buffalo. No longer employed as a nurse practitioner in the region, Coburn pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distrib…

Baxter Reid, the Australian jailed here for 16 days because he overstayed his visitors visa, was released Wednesday. Reid, 26, was also ordered to leave the country within 120 days. Reid's release is the latest chapter in a story that attracted headlines here and in Australia because of the odd circumstances that led to his arrest and detention – he technically ov…

At one point in his sentencing on a drug charge, Mohamed Yusuf A. Siddiqui broke down. It came as the retired physician, now 73, explained his remorse and shame at what he had done and how it cost him one of the most important aspects of his life – his ability to practice medicine. Forced to surrender his license in January, Siddiqui was sentenced Wednesday to a ye…

James Mazzariello used an unusual strategy to grow his tow truck business – bribing Buffalo police officers. Mazzariello, a prominent figure in the Buffalo tow truck industry for three decades, admitted operating a pay-to-play scheme Tuesday as part of a federal plea deal that could send him to prison for two years. The 62-year-old owner of Jim Mazz Auto appeared i…

Jim Bittner says the workers on his Niagara County apple farm have a term for it: Driving while brown. He chuckles sarcastically when he says it. But for Bittner and other upstate farmers, the new immigration environment, both real and imagined, is hurting one of their most important resources – migrant workers who plant and harvest their crops each year. [Gallery:…

Traveling the world is Milenko Gordic's idea of living the dream. At least it was until the Serbian's cross-country trek through the United States, a journey that took him along historic Route 66 and to several national parks – before ending with his arrest in Niagara Falls. It was two days before Christmas and Gordic, a journalist chronicling his travels on soc…

Baxter Reid says his only offense was being an hour and a half late. By the Australian's estimates, that's the amount of time he overstayed his visa and why he's now in custody at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia. Reid, 26, in jail since his arrest at the Peace Bridge two weeks ago, is at the center of a story attracting headlines here and in Australia and ca…