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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.


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…

Citing independent reviews by two doctors, federal prosecutors asked a judge Tuesday to stop Dr. Eugene Gosy from practicing medicine. The judge denied their motion. In making their request, prosecutors pointed to the doctors' evaluations of Gosy's files and their conclusion that his pain medication prescriptions contributed to the deaths of six patients. Gosy, ch…

Crime

In just three years, the number of marijuana arrests in Buffalo dropped by more than half. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of people arrested continued to be people of color. A new study, released Tuesday, found 86 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession in Buffalo during the five year-period ending last year were black or Hispanic. In …

Crime

When Jeremy Wright stood for his arraignment Saturday, Fred Merukeb also stood, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of the accused killer. "He shot my son," Merukeb said. "I just wanted to see him." Wright, 30, of Buffalo, is charged with firing the gun that killed Saleem Merukeb on Nov. 3 in Allentown. He was arraigned by Buffalo City Court Judge Amy C. Martoche and…

When A. Conger Goodyear died, his papers went to the Buffalo History Museum, a valuable addition to its collection of landmark letters and documents. Daniel Jude Witek also had his eye on the Goodyear papers and in 2013 stole some of the philanthropists' letters and, with the help of an alias, tried to sell them to a collector in Manhattan. Witek, a former museum vol…

On a cold December day in 2009, Jabril Harper was shot twice in the head and left for dead in Buffalo's Roosevelt Park. Harper was murdered, prosecutors say, because of his reputation as a drug dealer and the expectation that he was rolling in cash and cocaine. Eight years later, the two men accused of targeting Harper as part of a murder-for-profit scheme are standi…

Crime

Dr. Eugene Gosy ignored obvious red flags warning him of his patients' abuse and addictions and six of them died as a result, prosecutors said Wednesday. Gosy, a Clarence pain specialist, is accused in a new federal indictment of illegally prescribing pain medication that resulted in the six deaths, making him the first local doctor to be charged with such a crime. P…

Amherst

When the Environmental Protection Agency went after William Huntress, it ran up against a developer with the will and means to fight back. Eight years later, the government is declaring an end to the battle. Huntress, in a statement, said the government's decision to voluntarily dismiss its suit against him is a total victory for his company, Acquest Development, and…

Damien Hicks-Bailey, a heroin dealer tied to a fatal overdose in West Seneca, was sentenced Thursday to eight years in prison. Hicks-Bailey, 22, of Buffalo, had previously pleaded guilty to distribution of heroin and, as part of his plea deal, acknowledged selling heroin to a man found dead of an overdose 11 hours later. The case against Hicks-Bailey, prosecuted by A…

Social media is at the center of another criminal case involving an underage victim. Anthony Weber, 35, of Grand Island, is charged with enticement of a minor and accused of using Facebook to seek a sexual relationship with the 15-year old girl. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Cantil said the girl began communicating with the defendant after she responded to an empl…

Crime

For more than four decades, the Buffalo Halfway House served as as alternative to prison, a kind of transitionary home for inmates looking for a fresh start. It was there, in the rooms of the Glenwood Avenue facility, that inmates could learn about job training, educational opportunities, health care and family counseling. Later this year, the 51-bed home will shut down,…

Crime

By now, nearly everyone knows what former state Sen. George D. Maziarz was trying to hide. It was 2013 and Maziarz, in the midst of a re-election effort, wanted his campaign to hire a former Senate staffer accused of sexual harassment – but to keep the hiring secret. The question now is whether the former Niagara County Republican powerhouse broke the law in doing wh…

Crime

Forced to leave football because of injuries, former Buffalo Bills running back Sean Doctor decided on a career as a firefighter and later, as owner of an asbestos abatement company. Nearly 30 years later, Doctor faces a year of probation because of a felony conviction related to his work on an asbestos clean up at Roosevelt Park in Buffalo. Doctor, who was prosecute…

Matthew Smith didn't fire the guns that killed Brandon McDonnell and Darinell Young, but a jury found the 10th Street gang member partly responsible for the murders. More than a decade later, a federal judge on Tuesday sentenced Smith to life in prison. The mandatory sentence came nearly three years after Smith and three other 10th Street gang members were convicted …

When Diane Cleversley's mother died, her Social Security checks kept coming. And for 15 years, Cleversley kept the money. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara on Tuesday sentenced Cleversley to a year of home confinement for her theft of $176,405 in Social Security benefits. Now 68, the Williamsville woman told Arcara she was "disgraced" and "humiliated," and regret…