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.

Frank Parlato Jr. claims the FBI concocted evidence against him. A federal judge challenged that allegation in a decision this week that rejects the Buffalo newspaper publisher's attempts to dismiss charges that he cheated the IRS and two heirs to the Seagrams' liquor fortune. In recommending the prosecution continue, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy pointe…

An anonymous call led to the arrest Tuesday of a convicted sex offender who had been deported but somehow found his way back into the country from Mexico, according to U.S. Border Patrol officials. The name of offender was not released, but agents said he was one of seven men arrested at a fast food restaurant on Grand Island. The arrests began with an anonymous call…

LPCiminelli claims in court documents that it has lost out on $3.9 billion of work and inventory since reports surfaced in September 2015 that it had received a federal subpoena. The projects include: Yonkers Public Schools capital program, $1 billion Niagara County Community College Learning Commons, $25 million Buffalo State College Bishop Hall, $16 million …

An email offering at home employment opportunities is a scam targeting University at Buffalo students, federal authorities said. The scam starts with an email, with checks payable to the student, sent to the student's personal UB account, according to officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE says the checks are counterfeit and worthless. The email al…

When Donald Trump took the oath of office, he also took responsibility for naming the next generation of federal prosecutors. Like every new president, he's expected to take some time in picking the nation's U.S. attorneys, but here in Buffalo, candidates are already jockeying and lobbying for the top federal law enforcement job in the region. At the top of most peop…

Even after his initial arrest, Robert Pritchett continued to prey on underage girls. By the time he was arrested again more than a year later, four girls had fallen victim to the man who used social media and fake identities in an effort to sexually exploit them. On Monday, Pritchett admitted victimizing the four girls, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, as part of a p…

For more than seven years, William M. George fought the city over a promotion system that he claimed rewarded Democrats and supporters of Mayor Byron W. Brown. A federal judge dismissed his suit last week. George, a seasonal laborer, sued the city in 2009, claiming he was denied a permanent position because he failed to join the Democratic Party and support Brown's r…

There's no shortage of doctors among the human faces that define the opioid epidemic. One of them, a well-known and well-regarded Amherst radiologist, is going to prison for two years. Albert R. Cowie, a recovering drug addict who admitted writing fraudulent prescriptions for painkillers, stood before a federal judge Thursday and apologized to his family, patients an…

To hear the prosecutor talk, Jason M. Smith is as bad as a felon gets. Seven underage girls. Seven victims of sexual exploitation. One of them only 8 years old at the time she was raped. Smith, a 37-year old Town of Tonawanda man, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in federal prison. "It does not get any worse than this," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott S. All…

There was a time when Zeljko Savija lived under the radar. He worked as a truck driver, resided with his wife and two kids and led an otherwise humdrum life in the Town of Tonawanda. And then came the allegation that turned Savija's life upside down – a federal indictment accusing him of lying about his service in a Serbian police force with ties to war crimes in B…

Richard L. Frey spent 10 years as mayor of Dunkirk and, like most politicians, relied on money from donors to stay in office. Turns out Frey was dipping into his campaign coffers for other reasons, as well. Frey, now 85, admitted using $54,361 in political contributions for his personal use as part of a plea agreement approved Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Richard…

For nearly a decade, Zeljko Savija melded into the Buffalo  community, working as a truck driver and living with his wife and two kids in the suburbs. All of that changed in 2012 when Savija, a Serbian from Bosnia, was charged with lying about his service in a police force with ties to war crimes in order to gain entry to the United States as a refugee. Investigator…

Amir Chambers was the victim of a gang feud and the rival gang member who killed him is going to prison for 30 years. Fred Keys, 54, an associate in the LRGP Gang, admitted killing Chambers in April 2011 as part of a turf war with the Cold Springs Gang and in retaliation for the killing of an LRGP member five weeks earlier. Keys had previously pleaded guilty to a rac…

Even now, five years after his murder, Kevin Wilkins' brothers and sisters cry when they remember their older sibling. Wilkins' father says the younger kids miss Kevin, much like he does, and yet he found a way Monday for his family to move on from the tragedy. "I don't know how I can say this, but I forgive you," Rodney Wilkins, his voice choking with emotion, told …

Halfway across the world, in a downtown Buffalo courtroom, “ethnic cleansing” in war-torn Bosnia is the backdrop in the trial of a Town of Tonawanda truck driver. Zeljko Savija, a husband and father of two grown kids, is accused of lying about his involvement with Serbian military and police forces in order to enter the United States as a refugee 14 years ago. Pr…