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DNA helps lead to indictment of Buffalo man in Tonawanda home invasion

DNA evidence helped lead law enforcement to an indictment of a Buffalo man in a home invasion of an elderly Tonawanda couple, according to the United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of New York.

Todd Laraba, 41, was indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday on charges of Hobbs Act robbery and conspiracy, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. announced.

According to prosecutors, on Sept. 28, 2017, shortly before 9 p.m., two men entered the residence at 540 Harrison Ave. and went to the family room where an elderly couple was watching television. The complaint states that the men were wearing black hooded sweat shirts, black pants, black gloves and skeleton masks, and one of the men had a husky or larger build; and that one of the men stated to the victims, "This isn't going to hurt, or take long. You won't get hurt, just relax."

The men zip-tied the victims’ hands and ankles with black zip ties and placed duct tape across the victims’ mouth and eyes. One of the men stayed with the victims while the other went to the attic of the residence. After approximately 10 minutes the victims heard the rear door close. At this time they removed the duct tape from their eyes and mouth. One of the victims observed one of the men fleeing while carrying what appeared to be a lockbox.

While processing the scene, officials said, the Town of Tonawanda Police Department officers recovered four black zip ties, four pieces of glossy duct tape and other items. Officials said that DNA testing determined that the major DNA profile obtained from the zip ties that came from the ankles and wrists of one of the victims matched the DNA of Laraba.

“I applaud the dogged efforts of investigators from the Tonawanda Police and the Erie County Sheriff’s Departments, who, along with the federal partners at HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] and the FBI, never gave up on identifying and tracking down the person responsible for terrorizing these elderly victims in the serenity of their own home,” Kennedy said in a statement. “The arrest of this defendant should send a strong message to anyone thinking about preying on those most vulnerable – you will be discovered; you will be apprehended; and you will be brought to justice.”

Barry Covert, who is representing Laraba, told The News that Laraba has pled not guilty.

"We have asserted from Day One that he had nothing to do with that robbery," said Covert, "and we think the facts will show that he had nothing to do with that or any other robbery."

The defendant also was charged with marijuana conspiracy. It is alleged that he conspired with others to possess and distribute marijuana between April and November 2017.

The Hobbs Act is a federal law enacted in 1964 that prohibits robbery or extortion; it prohibits obtaining property from a victim through a threat of force.

The Hobbs Act and marijuana charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

The indictment is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Safe Streets Task Force, the Town of Tonawanda Police Department, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Laboratory.

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