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911 calls stop after family moves Authorities await results of voice analysis by FBI

Fake 911 calls apparently coming from one 15th Street home have stopped, for now.

That happened after the Juan Merced family was temporarily relocated from its home at 78 15th St. to an undisclosed location by the family's attorney to "protect their confidentiality and give them some breathing room."

The last call to the address was logged by emergency dispatchers at 6:21 p.m. Monday, according to records. It was the only call recorded there that day.

Meanwhile, Juan Merced, 49, who is identified by prosecutors as the chief suspect in hundreds of fake 911 emergency calls from his family's home, was ordered Wednesday to submit a voice exemplar to authorities, which will be analyzed at the FBI's Engineering Research Facility in Quantico, Va.

"What we're trying to do, obviously, here is find out who made the calls. We know the phones that were used, but we don't know who made the calls," said Frank J. Clark, Erie County district attorney. "I think everybody in that household is considered a suspect."

"We were in contact with the FBI here and they've accommodated us in doing that type of work."

The voice test is similar to the handwriting comparison test. Here, analysts using precise technology are able to chart a subject's voice sample digitally and see if it's comparable with evidence -- in this case, the taped 911 calls coming from the 15th Street house.

As of late Wednesday, the date and time for Merced's voice test was not set.

FBI spokeswoman Maureen Dempsey declined to comment specifically on the Merced case but offered an insight into how voice tests are conducted by agents.

"We would have the individual we're testing use the same device . . . calling the same facility that recorded it . . . on the same equipment and over the same distance," Dempsey said.

Dempsey said voice exemplar analysis is most frequently done by the FBI in extortion cases. The sampling and analysis are being provided without cost to local agencies.

Clark expected the process to take up to six weeks. The case is adjourned until after the testing and analysis have been completed.

Michael L. McCabe, the chief prosecutor in the case, told City Judge James A.W. McLeod that prosecutors have recordings of the fake 911 calls and want Juan Merced to speak in the emotional tone on the recordings.

"We allege that Mr. Merced was the caller," McCabe told the judge Wednesday.

McLeod ordered that Merced's attorney, Ayoka A. Tucker, be present for the test.

At Tucker's request, the judge also directed that a Spanish-language interpreter be present.

"We have no problem at all," Tucker said of the test, stressing that "similarity of voice is not sufficient to convict."

Outside the courtroom, Merced also insisted he has "no problem" with the test.

"It is not my voice," he said of the fake calls. Merced said he "can't figure out who is the one making the phone calls," but he predicted that person "will be caught."

Prosecutors have not asked for voice tests of other family members, which include Merced's wife, Felicita Santiago-Merced, and their nine children ages 5 to 17, but Clark said that remains a possibility as the investigation moves forward.

Authorities said at least 19 cellular telephones, including some phones owned by the family, have been used to make the calls. On average, about 20 fake calls a day were made over a period of seven weeks, police said. The motive behind the calls is unclear.

Meanwhile, City Housing Judge Henry J. Nowak has proceedings Friday afternoon on a days-old ordinance case lodged against the Merceds for a dozen alleged safety violations on their 15th Street home.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com and mgryta@buffnews.com

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