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Officer’s admission of stealing money from wallet ruled inadmissible

The Buffalo police officer accused of removing $130 from a woman’s wallet after a good Samaritan gave it to him to return to her has won his bid to prevent prosecutors from using his confession at trial.

Prosecutors failed to prove that Officer Michael R. Missana’s recorded and unrecorded statements to investigators were given voluntarily, State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang ruled this week.

The judge found that the officer “was ‘pushed’ by his interrogators to implicate himself in the crime” before he was read his Miranda warnings and before he gave a recorded statement last Sept. 10 admitting he took the money.

As a result, both his recorded and unrecorded statements must be suppressed, she said.

Assistant District Attorney Michael P. Felicetta told the judge Tuesday that he was prepared to prosecute the case without the statements but that he wanted to confer with District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III on a possible appeal.

The judge told Felicetta and defense attorney Evan M. Lumley to return to court April 6 to schedule a trial date or hold other proceedings.

Missana, 42, is charged with petit larceny and official misconduct, both Class A misdemeanors. He is accused of taking the money from the wallet before returning it to its owner. The wallet was found at the Caffé Aroma on Elmwood Avenue and turned over to Missana on Aug. 12 by the finder.

Missana, who has been on the force for less than two years, has been suspended.

Defense attorney Thomas J. Eoannou contended that Missana was called to the District Attorney’s Office under false pretenses, that all of the interview was not recorded and that his client was threatened with perjury while giving the statement.

Chief Criminal Investigator Joseph Riga testified at a hearing Jan. 23 that Missana initially told him he didn’t look inside the wallet to see if it contained money.

But after Missana was informed of other information developed during the investigation, the officer admitted he knew there was money in it and that he took the cash when the wallet fell on the floor of his patrol car and the money came out, Riga said.

At that point, Riga said he left the interview room, consulted with Sedita and Felicetta, then took a sworn statement from Missana after advising him of his Miranda rights.

At one point during the statement, Riga said he knew Missana was not being truthful, based on what other witnesses said. Riga said they went off the record, and Riga told the officer he could be charged with perjury if he was lying.

He said Missana admitted he was not being truthful, and they resumed the sworn statement. Missana allegedly admitted that he had taken the money out of the wallet and that it had not fallen on the floor of the car.

Riga also testified that Missana initially was told prosecutors wanted to talk to him about an unrelated burglary case, that Felicetta talked to him about that case for about five minutes and that Riga then questioned him about the wallet.

The investigator acknowledged that the entire interview, including Missana’s initial denial and Riga’s challenging the denial, was not recorded.

Riga denied threatening Missana but admitted he went off the record and told the officer he may be committing perjury if he didn’t tell the truth.