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Retirement of William Hochul leaves a void in law enforcement in WNY

William Hochul’s announcement came out of the blue, unexpected and even a little bewildering. Possibly the most effective federal prosecutor Western New York has ever seen announced on Wednesday that he would retire later this month.

It was simply the right time, he said, and there is no reason to think it goes beyond that. Perhaps he was just ready for a change. Whatever the reasons may be, Buffalo and Western New York can acknowledge that Hochul made a difference during his time in the Buffalo office, even before President Obama appointed him U.S. attorney six years ago.

Without offering details of his plans, Hochul said that after 30 years in public life, he would retire on Oct. 28 and take up work in the private sector. An attorney with his pedigree would, without doubt, command significant interest from private employers, and who’s to complain about that? Hochul, who is married to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Hochul, has served the area better than it could have hoped.

For example:

• As an assistant U.S. attorney, he became one of the first federal prosecutors in the country to use racketeering laws to take on street gangs such as the “LA Boys” in Buffalo.

• He was the lead prosecutor in the Lackawanna Six investigation, the post-9/11 case in which he won convictions against men who trained with terrorists in Afghanistan.

• He dismantled a violent and corrupt labor union in Niagara County.

• In two instances, he won federal convictions in cases that former Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III was unwilling to prosecute: against Ronald “Todd” Epps, suspected of murdering his longtime fiancée, Angela Moss; and against disgraced former Buffalo cop Robert E. Eloff, who was involved in the Molly’s Pub assault that ultimately resulted in the death of a veteran.

Because federal prosecutors are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, Hochul’s permanent successor is unlikely to be named until after January’s inauguration of a new chief executive. That person should know that his performance is bound to be measured by Hochul’s legacy.

It’s as good a measure of success as any we can think of.

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