An innocent West Side businessman whose home was invaded before dawn last week by federal agents with their guns drawn received an apology Thursday from U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. and Lev J. Kubiak, special agent in charge of the Buffalo Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
Barry N. Covert, an attorney for the businessman, said that he spoke with Hochul after a front-page article about the March 7 raid appeared in Thursday's Buffalo News and that "he expressed genuine remorse and regret for what had transpired."
Covert added that Hochul also offered to meet with his client and apologize personally.
Hochul additionally promised to "review the procedures used in this case and make sure that nothing like this would ever occur again to an innocent person in the Western District of New York," according to Covert.
Agents from Immigration & Customs Enforcement, having obtained a search warrant in a child pornography case, broke open the businessman's back door as he and his wife were sleeping before 7 a.m. March 7, pointed automatic weapons at him and seized his computer equipment.
The computer gear was returned three days later, after investigators arrested a neighbor and accused him of using the businessman's unprotected wireless Internet service -- alleged "Wi-Fi theft" -- to download child pornography to a computer in a nearby apartment.
John E. Luchetti, 25, of Orton Place, was arrested Wednesday and has pleaded not guilty to child pornography charges in U.S. District Court.
Covert said that ICE agents also apologized and offered to replace the damaged door.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, Hochul and Kubiak said, "The United States Attorney's Office and HSI are sorry that the owner of the wireless system used in this case, who had nothing to do with the crime, was swept up into this investigation."
They added, "This case serves as a warning to all users of wireless Internet service. Ensure your system is password-protected -- there are those who may breach your privacy and use your service for criminal purposes. Such usage may, in turn, cause well-intentioned law enforcement officers to follow the trail of evidence of that crime right into your home."
Covert noted that investigators in child pornography cases do not usually break down doors and have their guns drawn when they act on search warrants. He said they ordinarily show the warrant to whoever answers the door, sweep quickly through the premises to secure the evidence and do not point their firearms.
"It's a real riddle why they made an exception in this case," Covert said.
The businessman told The News that after "at least seven" agents broke into the home and awakened him and his wife, "they yelled at me to get down, but I was about seven steps from the bottom [of the stairs], and I didn't know what to do."
Some of the agents "grabbed me and dragged me down the stairs," the businessman said. "I fell against the table and landed on the floor. I was lying there with all these guns pointed at me."
The businessman said that "for 90 minutes, they treated me like there was absolutely no question or doubt that I was guilty."
Covert said his client does not intend to sue or file a damage claim in the incident.
"He's looking to put an end to this and put it behind him," Covert said. "He's always been very supportive of law enforcement, and he's always had very good relations with law enforcement officers. He knows they have a tough job to do."