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BREAKING: Firefighters accused of bookmaking plead guilty to greatly reduced charge

The three Batavia men arrested in February for running an illegal gambling operation, including two city firefighters, have entered guilty pleas in city court today to a Class A misdemeanor charge of promoting gambling, 2nd.

The pleas are a dramatically reduced from the Class B felony of enterprise corruption, which the case was elevated to in April.

Gregory Phillips and Brian Bordinaro, both veteran city firefighters, along with Lance Engel, a cook with the state's veterans home in Batavia, were originally arrested on a felony charge of criminal possession of gambling records in the first degree, a Class E felony. Philips was also accused of possessing a small amount of cocaine and charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th.

The Class B felony carried a maximum penalty of 8 to 25 years in state prison.

City Court Judge Robert Balbick's sentencing options include everything from an unconditional discharge to a year in county jail, including a combination of a shorter jail term and a term of probation.

As part of the plea deal, all three men agreed to resign their government jobs.

Attorney Larry Andolina, representing Phillips, said the charge his clients pled guilty to was exactly what they should have been charged with in the first place.

"I just don’t think gambling is that serious of a crime considering all of the gambling that goes on by the state, various lottery tickets, horsing racing, casinos … times need to be changed," Andolina said.

When the case first became public, investigators said gambling records indicated the trio was running a wide-ranging bookmaking operation that covered a variety sports, had numerous clients and turned over about $1 million in wagers. The trio was alleged by investigators to have taken in $80,000 in profits.

Andolina said none of that was true.

"It's all nonsense," Andolina said. "This was little people, betting, gambling on football games. It was blown so out of proportion, which is why it ended up being a misdemeanor."

At the first court appearance that Andolina and his fellow attorneys made on behalf of their clients, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman turned over thousands of pages of "discovery" -- the evidence the government has supposedly gathered against the defendants.

Andolina said the discovery failed to substantiate the original charges.

Friedman was not in court today, was out of the office and has not responded to a request for comment.

Sheriff Gary Maha said his investigators felt they had a solid case that could substantiate the felony charges or they wouldn't have made the arrests.

"We have many cases in which we make an arrest and then the case is pled down," Maha said. "It's our job to make the arrest. It's the DA's job to decide what to do with the case."

The Class A misdemeanor of promoting gambling is the lowest level crime under Article 225, New York's gambling penal code.

Joseph LaTona, attorney for Engel, said there was nothing unusual at all about the plea bargain. He characterized it as a "garden variety" plea.

"I’ve practiced criminal defense law for almost 40 years in Western New York and for individuals without a prior criminal history, for a first-time gambling offense, this is par for the course," LaTona said. "I’ve had many dispositions identical to this throughout many counties in Western New York.  It’s not unusual. It’s typical."

Sentencing on all three defendants is set for March 5.

One decision Balbick will be asked to make in the case of Phillips is to declare what Andolina called a "release from liabilities." He said Phillips has an opportunity for another job and a release from liabilities allows a person convicted of a crime to still be licensed in New York for some types of jobs. Andolina said the job prospect for Phillips is in the private sector.

Phillips and Bordinaro had 17 and 18 years on the job and would have been eligible for a New York State pension if they had completed 20 years of employment.

Both, they said in court, have already resigned from their city jobs.

Photos: Top, Bordinaro, center, with Andolina, right and Greg Ireland, president of IAFF Local 896. Inset, Phillips.

david spaulding
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so sad they had to lose their jobs...now uncle sam can support them

Eric [Rick] von k...
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I know i'll take some flack for this but here goes.
It looks like there might be a business opportunity for some enterprising batavia resident. You already know the penalty, if you have no record, you can even do a little coke. Just be sure you don't ever,ever. punch a walmart employee, or you WILL do hard time!!!!

Fred GUNDELL
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A big waste of our money. What did they do wrong?? Nothing more than Batavia Downs does every day. It is our problem not legalizing sports betting in the first place. I agree with you Eric, if there is no penalty then why not do it?? Good to know. I wish all three the best of luck in the future.

Dave Meyer
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Here's the difference Fred (and Mr. Andolina). They did what they did while they were supposedly on the job being paid by taxpayers like me and you.
If they want to do this shit out of their homes and risk everything they own including their reputations, fine. But don't do it while you're working for me.

Everyone who says - Oh it's OK....it's the same thing that's going on at Batavia Downs, etc, etc.

It's NOT THE SAME. It's ILLEGAL. if it wasn't, everyone would be doing it.

These guys caught a HUGE break.

david spaulding
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the line has been drawn in judge balbik's court,conviction of class a misdemeanor means you must resign from your employment if you do have a job. more jobless people is not what we need.

Billie Owens
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I don't believe it will be a challenge to fill the firefighters' jobs. They are good jobs with good benefits and there's probably a waiting list of volunteers with clean hands who would love to be paid heroes.

david spaulding
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wonder if the firefighter who lost his job will have such an easy time finding employment.
besides,now we have to train the new firefighter....

John Roach
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David, Are you saying it's ok to commit a crime while working for the City? Is that really ok with you?
Maybe the type of gambling they were involved in should be legal. But it was and is not at this time. But you think gambling while being paid by the public is ok?

Robert Tretter
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First thing! They were not convicted of doing it on duty!

Second! Meyers, about that coke deal, it was a trace and if you had a party in your house and someone leaves a trace in your bathroom somewhere, how would you feel? Ok, you might say my friends wouldn't do that but how do you know?

3rd! I won't discuss this further. Look into why someone on the case retired all of a sudden!

4th! Yes I am a retired city firefighter and friends with the two firefighters but it is amazing on how things that happen in the city, that employees of the city really know the true story but it never gets out. If the employee says something it is an employee that is disgruntle. Believe me, I loved my job, the people I worked with and the employees of Batavia. I'm going to put a plug in here for the employees of the city of Batavia, City Fire, City Police, DPW, Clerical workers, Water Dept and and any other worker in the city. They are great employees!

Any questions, call me.

Robert Tretter
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Sorry just reread it ,wasn't Meyers about coke it was Eric. Sorry but still mean it.

Kevin Squire
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Bob, I think that your point #3 is pretty much well known around Batavia. Just waiting for this to come to the surface. I'm sure it will by somebody.

Dave Meyer
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First of all....It's Meyer not Meyers.

I didn't mention the drug thing, so I'm not going there.

The fact that they pled guilty to a greatly reduced charge was a huge break for them as was the aforementioned sudden retirement of a principle in this case. We could debate all day whether the two are related or not. I guess those will remain some of the dirty little secrets regarding this case.

It's accurate to say that they were not convicted of anything...including promoting gambling while on duty. Sadly, the public will never know if that was true or not. They did choose to plead guilty to the reduced charge.

This entire thing smells to high heaven. Like it or not, public employees are held to a higher standard. The overwhelming majority perform their duties day after day to those standards. A few sadly don't.

The bottom line is that these types of activities are not legal in New York. Saying it's no different than Batavia Downs doesn't change that.

If Mr. Andolina feels differently perhaps he should quit his defense attorney gig and run for state office and seek to change that law....but I doubt that's gonna happen.

Jenna LaBarbera
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Well said, Mr. Tretter!

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