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Officer's guns discussed at bail hearing

A former Buffalo police officer accused of operating a marijuana-growing operation was questioned Friday in federal court about his ownership of several guns and an alleged domestic dispute with his ex-wife.

The federal prosecutor overseeing the case against Jorge I. Melendez, a four-year veteran of the force, raised the two issues as part of Melendez's request for bail.

"He has every reason in the world to flee," Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa M. Marangola said in court Friday.

Melendez is accused of overseeing an operation that included two warehouses, two homes and more than 1,000 marijuana plants. He was arrested Thursday morning at Buffalo Police Headquarters and was immediately fired by city officials.

Marangola claims Melendez tried to conceal his weapons -- five handguns, a rifle and a shotgun -- from his supervisors in the Buffalo Police Department.

Melendez's lawyer said one of his client's immediate supervisors was well aware of the guns and that Melendez is prepared to produce a document verifying his claim.

"Mr. Melendez informs me that his captain knew about those and signed off on them," Jeremy D. Schwartz, Melendez's defense lawyer, said of the guns. "He was making no effort to conceal them."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott indicated he probably will set bail in the Melendez case but acknowledged concern about the weapons.

Marangola also informed the court of a recent dispute in Lackawanna between Melendez and his ex-wife.

"He punched her in the face and attempted to run her over with a vehicle," Marangola told the judge. "This shows he has a temper."

Schwartz denied the allegation that his client struck his ex-wife and suggested the opposite is true. He also noted her presence in the courtroom Friday and her willingness to help post bail.

The judge indicated he also may set bail for Jason R. Elardo, the other defendant in the case. Elardo is not a Buffalo police officer.