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Phil Fairbanks

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.


Buffalo

When state officials announced a Buffalo Billion grant to improve Lovejoy's historic storefronts, one of the first neighborhood businesses to pop up was Barberians Barber Shop. To hear investigators talk, the offerings there included more than just a haircut or shave. Steve Alejandro, the operator of Barberians, was arrested with three others last month and accused o…

Crime

Michael C. O’Neill, the Wheatfield man who lost part of his leg in an explosion and later admitted making a pipe bomb, was sentenced Monday to 30 months in prison. O'Neill, 47, had previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford to unlawful possession of a destructive device. O'Neill's sentence came more than two years after the explosion at…

Crime

Stephanie W. Cowart, former executive director of the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, admitted Wednesday to working with her son and daughter-in-law to steal $17,580 from the authority and the state. Cowart, who appeared before U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara, pleaded guilty to theft of federal funds and acknowledged signing off on a teaching job and a training p…

Local News

Richard Klaffka posed as a disabled veteran and postal worker for more than decade. His act, which included a wheelchair he didn't need, was good enough to reap $1.2 million in fraudulent disability benefits. Klaffka, 59, of Holland, is now going to prison. "It was like a way of life," U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara said of Klaffka's fraud. "I was amazed at…

Crime

Arafat Nagi, the Lackawanna man accused of pledging allegiance to ISIS and trying to join the terrorist group, is taking his case to trial. Nagi, 46, informed U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara on Monday that he is rejecting the latest plea offer from federal prosecutors. Arrested in 2015, Nagi was accused of expressing support for ISIS in statements and photos on…

Crime

Andre Jenkins was eager to distance himself from his murder of two fellow Kingsmen in North Tonawanda on a late summer day in 2014, when he hopped on his motorcycle and returned to the gang's clubhouse in Tennessee, according to prosecutors. But what greeted Jenkins was far from a welcome home party. Inside, the Kingsmen also known as Little Bear discovered a scene r…

A Lackawanna man is accused of conspiring with others to distribute heroin, fentanyl and cocaine over a two-year period. A new six-count federal indictment charges Elias Armand, 40, with various possession and distribution charges, as well as a charge of possessing a firearm in support of a drug trafficking crime. Armand's drug activity took place between 2014 and Fe…

As expected, Dr. Paul T. Biddle, the Orchard Park doctor accused of writing prescriptions to himself, has entered a substance abuse treatment center in Pennsylvania. Biddle, 53, was arrested last week by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration and charged with using his patients, two of them dead, as a front for his own addiction to painkillers. Brian M. Melber, …

Local News

A former nurse at the Erie County Holding Center is suing over her high-profile firing last year. Colleen Dolac, who was on leave to care for her sick husband at the time of her termination, claims age and disability discrimination were at the heart of her firing. Dolac's termination, outlined in a suit filed in Buffalo federal court, garnered headlines because her h…

Crime

Over the course of four years, Dr. Paul T. Biddle wrote 888 prescriptions to a Tampa, Fla. pharmacy, according to prosecutors. But the prescriptions for opioids never made it to the Orchard Park doctor's patients, they claim, and instead ended up back in his own hands. Biddle, 53, was arrested Tuesday and charged with using his patients, two of them dead, as a front …

Crime

Everyone likes a bargain but, sometimes, that low, low price is a tip off, a red flag of sorts. You may be buying a fake. With the holiday shopping season upon us, federal law enforcement officials warned consumers Tuesday to be on the look out for counterfeit goods and suggested more than once that shoppers need to be the front line of defense. "If it's a popular…

Crime

When Arthur Jordan was arrested, his provocative statements to Buffalo police became big news. So did the fact that Jordan, accused of using Facebook to threaten police, was carrying a handgun at the time of his arrest. Two years later, both the gun and statements are being tossed out by the judges overseeing Jordan's federal prosecution. The rulings stem in part …

Local News

Victor Pacheco planted, trimmed and harvested the grapes and raspberries at the Diller-Raby farm in Lewiston for more than two decades. Over time, he became foreman, moved into the rent-free trailer near the main house, got married and became a fixture in the community. He was a welcome addition to the Raby family. But on a warm afternoon last month, Pacheco found hi…

A Lovejoy barber shop near a public school served as the front for a cocaine operation, according to federal prosecutors. The allegations about Barberians Barber Shop on East Lovejoy Street are the result of a Drug Enforcement Administration and Buffalo police investigation into four Buffalo men now charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The defendants, inclu…

Crime

When Joseph Tigano III went to prison for growing marijuana in Cattaraugus County, the judge who sent him there regreted the decision and said so publicly from the bench. She called the mandatory 20-year sentence unnecessary, even excessive, but acknowledged it was out of her hands. Late Wednesday afternoon, that same judge intervened on Tigano's behalf and, acting o…