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Lawrence J. Sams Jr., 70, special agent for U.S. Customs Service

Lawrence J. Sams Jr., 70, special agent for U.S. Customs Service

Feb. 26, 1950 – April 25, 2020

Lawrence J. Sams Jr. was determined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a senior inspector for the U.S. Customs Service.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in government from Rosary Hill College in 1976, as part of the last class to graduate before it became Daemen College, he worked for two years in administration with the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., but wanted a career in law enforcement instead.

He applied for a position with the Customs Service and was assigned to Rouses Point in the Adirondacks as a patrol officer on the alert for smuggling and illegal aliens in wilderness areas along the Canadian border.

He went on to receive the Agent of the Year Award in 2001 from the Customs Service’s Office of Internal Affairs for his work on investigating illegal activities within the agency, including the recovery of $90,000 stolen from the evidence safe in the Buffalo Field Office.

An Amherst resident, he died April 25 in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, after a short illness. He was 70.

Born in Buffalo, the only boy in a family of four children, he was a 1968 graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School, then attended other colleges before earning his degree at Rosary Hill.

Promoted to special agent in 1983, he was assigned to the port in Baltimore, Md., where he inspected large container ships for illegal drugs and weapons.

From 1989 to 1992, he worked in the Strategic Investigation Division at U.S. Customs headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he outfitted field agents with equipment for undercover operations.

There he met his wife of 21 years, Heather Yannello.

“He was a recruiter in the D.C. field office and he was hiring,” she said.

Mr. Sams returned to Buffalo in 1994 to work in internal affairs.

After the Customs Service was merged into the Department of Homeland Security following the 2001 terrorist attacks, he was assigned in 2002 as supervisory special agent in charge of the Office of Professional Responsibility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

When he retired in 2004, he returned to Western New York and established LJS Investigations LLC, where he was a subcontractor performing background investigations for the federal government.

“Everybody liked Larry,” his wife said. “He had this way of walking up to someone he needed information from and saying, ‘Hey, I need your help.’ People confessed to him. You didn’t want to disappoint him.”

A notary public and a certified fraud examiner, he also completed a master’s degree in human resources training and development at Seton Hall University while his wife, a special investigator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was working in New York City.

Mr. Sams served as a board member of Crime Stoppers Buffalo and was president of the Christ the King Senior Golf League.

He was a founding member of the alumni group for the Class of 1964 at St. Margaret School and arranged meetings.

In recent years, he took up acting for the first time since he was attending college and studied at the Frank Rossi Studio.

He landed roles in national commercials, was an extra in the film “A Quiet Place Part II” and had a leading role in “White Demise,” a locally produced independent film released in January. His son, Christopher, had a role in the movie.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Erinn; and three sisters, Honor Martin, Mary Wideman and Sheila Collum.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be scheduled at a later date.

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