Phil Fairbanks, The Buffalo News
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Phil Fairbanks

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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.

James P. Kennedy Jr. in February pointed to his lack of political friends and allies, Republican or Democrat, to suggest his chances of becoming the top federal prosecutor in Buffalo were, at best, a long shot. Five moths later, Kennedy's reputation as an independent, career prosecutor is being viewed as a plus, not a negative, and the primary reason why President Trump…

In the pantheon of industrialists and philanthropists who made Buffalo a great city, A. Conger Goodyear holds a special spot. Born here, he gained wealth and stature during the early 1900s as a railroad and lumber executive and avid art collector who owned works by Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. When Goodyear died, his personal letters went to the Buff…

A Buffalo day care operator faces up to 30 months in prison after admitting Wednesday that he stole federal funds intended for lower-income working families. Tariq Butt, 41, owner of the Candy Land Day Care Center and Twinkle Stars Day Care Center, will also be required to pay $305,000 in restitution to the government as part of his guilty plea to theft of government fu…

Michael H. Wilson's decade-long journey in the public eye took him from Buffalo to Canada and Vietnam and finally, on Tuesday, back to Buffalo — this time in a downtown courtroom. For Wilson, dressed in a prison garb and wearing handcuffs, it was a sharp departure from the days when, as a 21-year-old investment guru, he impressed people with his purchase of a $6.3 mil…

The federal government agreed this week to settle a lawsuit stemming from an accident involving a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent. The government, according to court records, agreed to pay $490,000 to Danielle L. Horner and her husband, Ricky D. Mason, as a result of a 2014 three-vehicle accident on the Thruway in Cheektowaga. Mason was not in the car at the time o…

A  new and unique face was added Monday to the other side of the opioid crisis - drug dealers charged with causing fatal overdoses. Aaron J. McDuffie, 22, of Buffalo, is the latest in a series of alleged dealers to face allegations linked to a death, and the first to be accused of selling heroin and fentanyl that killed not just one person, but two. A federal grand …

Carlo J. Marinello II is on a run of sorts. Two weeks ago, the Buffalo man learned the U.S. Supreme Court will hear an appeal of his 3-year-old tax conviction. A federal judge last week ordered him released from prison more than a year early. In granting Marinello his freedom, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, the same judge who oversaw his trial, pointed to…

A former Buffalo woman owes the federal government $4.4 million in overdue taxes and penalties, according to a new lawsuit. The civil suit, filed in Buffalo federal court, accuses Marika M. Katholos of failing to report earnings and interest income from a foreign financial account in 2006 and 2007. Katholos, who was born in New York and has dual citizenship in Greece…

A former teacher's religious free speech suit against the Cheektowaga Central School District is over. The U.S. Supreme Court recently denied Joelle Silver's petition appealing two lower court decisions that dismissed her suit over the removal of religious items from her classroom. Silver, with the help of the American Freedom Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., accused…

Two men who distributed sexually explicit photos of an underage girl in order to get more photos pleaded guilty Wednesday to cyberstalking. Timothy Laubacker, 25, of Lockport, and Travis Guerriera, 27, of Olcott, admitted using photos of the 14-year old girl, who Guerriera knew at the time, in order to coerce more photos from her as an adult years later. Laubacker al…

A former West Seneca postal carrier who stole money from some of his mail was sentenced Monday to a year of probation. Richard D’Arcy Jr., who also admitted dumping undelivered mail from his route, said the postal service was a dream job that he hoped to have until his retirement. "I'm not sure what happened," he told U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo. "Maybe…

Fifteen years later, Mark and Judy Rappold look back on their hills-and-valleys relationship with Ross M. Cellino and admit that, yeah, they still like the guy. Even now, more than a decade after the West Seneca couple accused Cellino of misconduct, they remember the lawyer who also won them a record-setting $47 million jury verdict. "Ross is not a phony," Mark Rappo…

Michael H. Wilson donned many faces – investment wunderkind, indicted scammer, international fugitive – during his decade-long journey in the spotlight. Even at the age of 21, when he first arrived in Buffalo, he wowed people with his purchase of a $6.3 million estate in Hamburg, a price tag that set a local record at the time. And then came the fall. Now 30, …

Even after her mother died in 2001, Diane Cleversley continued to collect and spend her mother's Social Security benefits. By the time she was caught, more than 15 years later, the Buffalo woman had illegally accumulated $176,405. Now 68, Cleversley pleaded guilty Friday to theft of government money and will face a recommended prison term of 12 to 18 months when she …