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MAN CAN'T TAP TRUST FUND TO PAY DRUG DEBT

Trust fund beneficiaries often ask Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina to release money from an inheritance.

But a request for money to pay off a drug dealer is unusual.

That was the situation Mattina faced Tuesday as a 21-year-old Buffalo man claimed his life could be in danger if he doesn't come up with $4,000.

Mattina refused the request, instead directing police to get the message out on the street that the man should not be harmed.

The identity of the man, who is the son of a deceased Buffalo police officer, was not released. He said the debt stems from an incident two weeks ago, when he was robbed after making a drug delivery for a local dealer.

Capt. Mark Morgan, head of the Buffalo Police Department's Narcotics Unit, told Mattina that if the man's claims are accurate, he could be the victim of an extortion plot by dealers seeking to make double collections.

Morgan has assigned an investigator to contact drug dealers who police said already have been linked to telephoned threats to the man.

Because the man turned 21 last month, Mattina lacked legal authority to order him to get drug treatment, but he suggested it. Court officials pointed out that if the trust fund had not been established, the man would have been free to take the remaining money and spend it.

"I'm trying to save your life, and I want to send the word out that (drug dealers) better not touch a hair on your head," the judge told the man. "I can't give you money for drug dealers."

Under the terms of the trust fund, the man receives about $900 a month for living expenses but has to seek Mattina's permission to withdraw any other funds, court officials said.

During Tuesday's proceedings, Thomas E. Hewner, whom Mattina appointed counsel for the trust fund, told the judge the man had called him last week asking for $3,000 for a trip to Disney World and claiming at that time that his father wanted him "to have fun" with the money.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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