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Jail holds ex-convict for 28 extra months Officials blame paperwork mix-up

By his own admission, Edward Veira is a man of few words.

Which might explain why the criminal justice system's failure to communicate left him unclaimed and forgotten inside the Erie County Holding Center -- for more than two years.

Jail deputies would ask among themselves, what's going on with this guy?

Veira, a hardened ex-convict, never received visitors. He never had court hearings; no lawyers came to talk with him. He did not inquire about his status nor protest that he was in limbo behind bars, according to deputies familiar with him.

In fact, Veira was being held without charges. He should have been out of the jail in March 2009, when the District Attorney's Office dropped a felony count against him -- failure to register as a sex offender -- because he had already been ordered deported.

Yet Veira remained in the jail for another two years, four months and two days because jail personnel, for whatever reason, failed to realize his case was over.

Just weeks ago, on July 27, the federal unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement inquired, yet again, whether its agents could pick up Veira to ship him out of the United States, as a judge had ordered because of his brutal past.

That's when someone inside the jail pieced it together and realized Veira had been held longer than necessary -- 854 days longer, to be exact.

"ICE conducted monthly checks to verify the status of the pending criminal charges," said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Each time, ICE was told that Veira was still being held on local charges. It was only on July 27, 2011, that ICE was informed that state charges had been fully adjudicated," Feinstein said. "He was turned over to ICE the same day."

Veira was driven to the federal detention facility in Batavia to await deportation because of his crimes, which were committed in New York City in the late 1980s and led to a long stretch in state prison.

His freedom, whenever it arrives, will probably occur on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, his birthplace.

The cost of a Holding Center inmate has been pegged, conservatively, at more than $100 a day. Using $100 as a benchmark, the cost of Veira's confinement for county taxpayers topped $85,000. And under the circumstances, the federal government will not reimburse Erie County.

Veira was an unusual inmate. But was his case so unusual to warrant him being left to linger in the jail for an extra 28 months?

"I can't speak for the Holding Center," District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said. "But for whatever reason, from what I'm piecing together, there was some kind of mix-up in paperwork."

The sheriff's team that runs the Holding Center would agree.

"It appears that the Sheriff's Office didn't receive any notification that Veira's local case was completed and he could be turned over to ICE," said Undersheriff Mark N. Wipperman, second-in-command to Sheriff Timothy B. Howard.

"The moment we were able to verify Veira's proper status, we contacted ICE and advised them that he was ready for transfer," Wipperman said.

In March 2009, Veira finished a 21-year-sentence in the state prison system. As an 18-year-old in 1987, he had taken part in a series of armed robberies at Burger Kings in Manhattan. Employees were herded into restrooms and, after surrendering personal valuables, locked in. Managers opened the safes at gunpoint and turned over the contents.

In one heist, the masked robbers raped and sodomized a 19-year-old store clerk and forced a male employee to attempt sex with her. She became pregnant and had an abortion.

"I was out of control within myself," Veira told the parole board years later, during his first crack at parole. He had been going to classes and trying to prepare himself for release. That was in 1995.

By his final parole hearing, in 2008, he was barely interested in participating. The transcript indicates that he had been in so much trouble behind bars, early freedom was mathematically impossible.

"What else would you like us to consider here, today?" he was asked.

"A man of few words. I don't know," he said.

"Anything you want to say on your behalf?"

"No," he responded.

His prison term ended March 12, 2009 with his release from the state facility in the Town of Collins. But state police picked him up that day and charged him with failing to register as a sex offender because he allegedly refused to sign the proper forms. He went to the Holding Center.

The case was dropped two weeks later, after prosecutors realized there was a federal immigration detainer in place.

"That was the principal reason we dismissed the charge, so the feds could take him the hell out of here, out of Erie County and out of the United States," Sedita said. "Good riddance. Apparently, that didn't happen for whatever reason. I cannot explain it. I hate to sound like I'm passing the buck. But that's not my job."

When county prosecutors dropped the charge, they did not tell the jail. They expected the court to do that -- standard procedure, Sedita said.

A clerk in the Town of Collins Court says the court, as a matter of routine, would have notified the jail in writing that the case was over. But she did not produce a copy of the document that would have been given the deputy who escorted Veira to Collins that night. The judge in the matter, Daniel C. Kuligowski, did not return a Buffalo News telephone message seeking comment.

Because Veira served his full sentence, 21 years, he was not released to parole supervision. A parole officer inquiring about Veira's status might have alerted the jail's records clerks to the problem.

Of course, Veira must have known the charge was dropped, according to the lawyer appointed to represent him in the county's case, Thomas C. Farley Jr. Veira was standing right there when the case was closed.

Farley says he doesn't know why Veira didn't call him when he remained in the Holding Center so long?

Veira's not saying whether he was in the dark about his status, or secretly preferred to remain in the Holding Center rather than be deported. He did not respond to a Buffalo News letter inviting him to comment.

"The Sheriff's Office has been continually advocating for a computerized court network which would allow court documents, detainers, warrants, etc., to be sent electronically to the Holding Center," Wipperman said when asked what might have prevented Veira's detention without charges for so long.

"A system like this might have prevented this situation from occurring," he said.

Nan Haynes teaches at the University at Buffalo Law School and sits on a Legislature-created volunteer panel recommending improvements to both the Holding Center and the county Correctional Facility in Alden.

"It sounds reasonable off the top of my head," she said of Wipperman's suggestion for a computer system. "Otherwise you have to assume the person at the court gives the paper to the deputy, that the deputy carries it to the Holding Center, and that the deputy gives it to the right person at the Holding Center. So you have three places where there can be an error."

"I know of another case where someone seemed to be misplaced in the jail, however for a far shorter period of time," she said. "It's frightening that people can get lost in the system."

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An inmate stayed behind bars in the Erie County Holding Center two years longer than he should have

Dec. 20, 1987: Edward Veira participates in an armed robbery at a Burger King in New York City. The robbers rape and sodomize a 19-year-old female employee.

Jan. 24, 1989: Veira begins a state prison sentence of 7 to 21 years.

April 9, 1998: An immigration judge orders Veira removed from the United States.

Oct. 29, 2008: Veira tells parole commissioners that he will serve out his maximum sentence, which will end within months, anyway. He has had no contact with his family.

March 12, 2009: As Veira ?nishes his prison term, state police immediately arrest him for failing to sign sex-offender registration paperwork as he leaves the state prison in Gowanda. He is taken to the Holding Center to await action in Collins Town Court.

March26, 2009: County prosecutor drops the charge, aware that Veira is to be deported. Veira returns to the Holding Center.

March 27, 2009 to July 2011: Jail deputies appear unaware that the charge against Veira has been dropped. They repeatedly tell officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he's being held on local charges and must remain in the county jail.

July 27, 2011: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer, on another routine status check, is told that the local charge is pending. But later in the day, the Holding Center noti?es the federal agency that Veira's criminal case is resolved and that he can be picked up. Federal officers take Veira to a detention facility in Batavia.