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CUSTOMS INSPECTOR INDICTED IN DRUG CASE

A federal grand jury indicted a suspended U.S. Customs inspector Tuesday on charges of selling cocaine and carrying a gun near a Buffalo school.

Henry Hall, 41, of LaSalle Ave. faces a possible mandatory prison term of 45 years if convicted of carrying a gun while distributing cocaine three times within 1,000 feet of Bennett High School, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Coppola said.

Hall, who has worked for the Customs Service for about 15 years, has been suspended since his Jan. 20 arrest, which followed a lengthy internal investigation.

Efforts to reach Hall or his lawyer to comment were unsuccessful.

Hall worked as an inspector at the Peace Bridge and at the Whirlpool and Rainbow bridges in Niagara Falls. Drug agents believe a substantial amount of drug traffic travels over the bridges, but authorities said no evidence so far indicates Hall was involved in moving drugs across the U.S.-Canada border.

"The investigation focused on that possibility, and so far, we have no indication that he was involved in allowing drugs to cross the bridges or that he was trafficking at the bridges," said Thomas E. Manifase, resident agent in charge of internal affairs for the Customs Service.

Hall apparently functioned as a Buffalo street dealer of cocaine and crack, Manifase said.

"What we do allege is that, during the period of time when he was charged with the duty of checking cars for drugs and other contraband, he was selling drugs himself," Coppola said.

Coppola said that, even though Hall is charged with selling small amounts of cocaine to an undercover agent, he faces a harsh sentence because of the charge of violating a strict new federal law against carrying guns during drug transactions.

"The investigation showed he was carrying his Customs Service revolver during three of the transactions, but he was not authorized to carry the gun during off-duty hours," Manifase said.

If convicted, Hall faces a stiffer sentence for selling drugs near the school and involving a 17-year-old nephew in one of the deals.

Hall's sister, Deborah Burney, whose age was unavailable, was indicted with him. Ms. Burney, also of LaSalle Avenue, was charged with drug-trafficking conspiracy.

Coppola said Hall is accused of selling the agent a small amount of crack cocaine that he obtained from Ms. Burney's son, who was not identified Tuesday.

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