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Quintana's attorney offers glimpse into possible defense in fraud case

Yes, Robert Quintana worked at the Niagara Cafe, but only for an hour or so each day and only when the former lawmaker's pain would permit it, his lawyer said Friday.

Defense attorney Barry N. Covert offered the first glimpse into the defense Quintana, a Buffalo police officer and former Common Council member, may use in the federal court case against him.

"Robert looks forward to challenging these allegations," Covert said after an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott.

Quintana, who was in court, said afterward that he wished he could comment on the charges against him but that Covert advised him not to talk at this time.

Covert insists that Quintana did nothing illegal by occasionally working at the Niagara Cafe, a well-known West Side restaurant owned by his wife's parents.

"When he was up to it, he would go to the restaurant," Covert said of his client. "And he never hid that."

Quintana, a former United Way spokesman and once-promising politician, was arraigned on felony charges of mail fraud and health care fraud earlier this week.

Prosecutors say Quintana worked at the restaurant while at the same time claiming he had fallen down stairs and was unable to work as a police officer. At the time of his arrest, he was collecting his "injured-on-duty" salary of more than $60,000 a year.

"He was at home until the end of his work day," Covert said of Quintana's normal police shift, "and then he would go to the restaurant to help out."

Covert also challenged the government's contention that Quintana was paid for his restaurant work and, in essence, collected two paychecks while working only one job.

"We're saying he wasn't paid," he said.

Quintana pleaded not guilty earlier this week and was released on his own recognizance. He also was suspended without pay from the Buffalo police force.

The FBI claims Quintana has been out on paid leave since March 2005 but was observed by agents cleaning tables and lifting boxes and helping to manage the Niagara Cafe.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.