Share this article

print logo

Former justice arrested after FBI probe

A former Depew village justice is under arrest in Hawaii in connection with an FBI probe into the illegal disposal of some private medical records.

John E. Cipolla, who resigned from his job as a village justice after he was censured by state officials in 2002, was arrested about three weeks ago in Hawaii, authorities Friday told The Buffalo News.

Cipolla, 41, of Depew, is in police custody in Hawaii and is scheduled to make his first Buffalo appearance in the case on Sept. 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, court officials said.

Investigators from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general's office worked on the case with the Buffalo FBI office.

Authorities charged Cipolla with making false statements to federal agents who were investigating an unusual incident involving some medical records that were dumped in the garbage behind an Erie County Auto Bureau office in June 2010.

According to a sworn statement from FBI Special Agent Thomas W. Provost, patient records that were supposed to be kept private were found in a dumpster behind the county office on George Urban Boulevard in Depew.

Authorities learned that the records came from a local eating-disorder clinic that the owners had shut down and Cipolla was trying to reopen, authorities said.

Boxes of records found in the Dumpster included "patient names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, medical complaints, medical diagnosis, treatment information and health information," Provost said in court papers.

The eating-disorder clinic, known as the Avalon Centers, operated for several years in Amherst and Clarence before closing in late 2009, the agent said in court papers.

"Fifteen to 20 boxes" of patient records were left in Avalon's Clarence offices after the business was shut down, Provost said.

Cipolla never was able to reopen the eating-disorder clinic, but Provost said the FBI learned that Cipolla had records from the clinic.

The agent said Cipolla told him that, as far as he knew, the documents were "strictly business records" which did not contain "any patient medical file or information."

But the dumped documents included private data about 172 patients, Provost said.

Cipolla resigned from his job as a acting village justice in October 2002, after he was censured by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The censure involved a series of incidents involving a former girlfriend of Cipolla.

The commission said Cipolla had improperly displayed his judicial identification card during a dispute at a local comedy club, had improperly tried to conduct a background check through a police agency that his girlfriend had previously worked for, and that he arranged to have her speeding ticket reduced in another court.

Cipolla is charged with felony counts of "knowingly and willfully" making false statements to federal agents and with violating the patients' government-protected privacy rights.

Cipolla could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango is prosecuting the case.