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Phil Fairbanks

I cover federal courts and criminal justice issues and occasionally veer off into the world of refugees, human traffickers and streets gangs. As a product of the Watergate era, I value a newspaper's role as the community watchdog.


Local News

NEW YORK – With his former boss – a man he still calls "Louis" – sitting just a few feet away, Kevin Schuler took the witness stand Thursday to talk about the crimes he committed and the people who he said helped him. Schuler, described by defense lawyers as the "government's star witness," testified that defendants Louis Ciminelli and Alain Kaloyeros joined him in a sc…

Local News

NEW YORK – By September of 2013, Alain Kaloyeros and Louis Ciminelli were working hand in hand to fine-tune plans for the Buffalo Billion's marquee project. There was one problem, though. Kaloyeros, eager to announce plans for the massive solar manufacturing plant, wanted more detail on Ciminelli's company before finalizing the project's request for proposals. "Th…

Buffalo

NEW YORK – Walter G. Barber never saw evidence of bid-rigging. And he never had a problem with contractors getting an advance look at requests for proposals. Barber, former chairman of the board overseeing the Buffalo Billion, took the stand Tuesday as a witness for the prosecution, but you couldn't tell by his testimony. Over and over again, the former state audi…

Courts

NEW YORK – Todd Howe may not testify, but jurors in the Buffalo Billion trial are learning a lot about the former Washington, D.C., lobbyist and his ties to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Howe was close to senior leadership in the the governor's officer and used the initials "A.C." when talking about Cuomo and "H.G." when referring to Cuomo confidante Howard Glaser, according to…

Courts

NEW YORK – On a summer day five years ago, Andrew Kennedy was in the midst of touring potential sites for a new solar manufacturing plant in Buffalo when an unexpected visitor arrived. It was Louis Ciminelli, said Kennedy, one of the state's top economic development officials at the time. Even though plans for the solar plant were still private and confidential, Kenn…

Crime

Even now, after 26 years behind bars, Valentino Dixon is hopeful, more so than ever before, that "God's plan" for him will soon lead to freedom. Dixon's story is well known and not just here in his hometown of Buffalo, but across the country. He sits in Wende Correctional Facility, serving 38 years to life for a murder he claims he didn't commit. His story is also ab…

Crime

Arafat M. Nagi’s loyalty to ISIS was evident everywhere. He posted a Facebook photo of himself wearing combat gear, holding an AK-47 style rifle and standing in front of an Islamic flag. He talked openly with his Lackawanna neighbors about his support for violent jihad. Nagi even went so far as to voice support for terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in statemen…

Crime

For anyone involved in an online romance, the FBI has some advice. Be cautious. More and more, scammers are preying on people, mostly women, who are looking for a relationship through dating websites and social media. If you don't believe it, consider the local woman, a highly paid, white-collar professional in her late 50s, who lost $718,000 to a fake boyfriend she …

A Seneca Nation merchant has lost the latest round in his battle to avoid state taxes on cigarettes he sells. The State Court of Appeals ruled against Eric White, owner of Native Outlet in Salamanca, and found that state tax law does not conflict with Indian treaties or the U.S. Constitution. White, who sells cigarettes to Seneca Nation members and the general public…

Crime

A pay-to-play scheme targeting Buffalo police officers is sending a prominent figure in the tow truck industry to prison for a year. James Mazzariello Jr., the 63-year old owner of Jim Mazz Auto, admitted bribing officers to gain an advantage over competitors at accident scenes in the city. In the end, Mazzariello cooperated with the FBI and received a substantial re…

Crime

A pharmacist was arraigned Monday on charges that he prescribed drugs for himself, U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. reported. Patrick R. McQuade, 29, of North Tonawanda, is accused of creating 20 fictitious patient profiles that allowed him to write prescriptions for himself from 2015 to 2017 while working at Rite Aid. They included 1,874 dosage units of Alprazolam, P…

Crime

In the end, Deborah Bowers wanted to talk about the good she did. She told the judge deciding her fate about the radio station for women that she and other "honest humanitarians and visionaries" helped build in war-torn Iraq. She also told him that, even now, 12 years later, the station continues be a voice for women's rights. When she was done, U.S. District Judg…

Crime

By now, anyone who travels from Canada to Buffalo knows the humdrum questions that await them at the border. What is your citizenship? Where do you live? Now imagine adding this question: Have you ever smoked marijuana? While it's rarely asked by Customs officers, it is asked on occasion and now there's an expectation it may get asked even more because of Ontario'…

Featured

With a backdrop of music, pageantry and a conga line of priestly hugs, Buffalo's Catholics gathered Saturday to welcome four new shepherds to their flock. With a sustained standing ovation that filled St. Joseph's Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, they celebrated the ordination of a world traveler, a computer software engineer, a native of Nigeria and a young man, who even…

Crime

The federal crackdown on the Bailey Boys street gang continued Thursday with the conviction of one its leaders. Kenneth Pettway Jr., 34, of Buffalo, was convicted of drug and gun charges and faces a recommended maximum sentence of life in prison. During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Michael P. Felicetta and Seth T. Molisani portrayed Pettway as a leader of the …