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Friday, July 27, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Border Patrol helicopter reportedly spots marijuana growers in East Pembroke

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, east pembroke

Deputies are responding to East Pembroke where a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter has reportedly spotted people cultivating marijuana.

One person reportedly saw the helicopter and ducked into a house.

Two other people are reportedly pulling plants into a barn and there is some concern they are trying to destroy the evidence.

A white sedan with a sunroof was reported leaving the property and a deputy has located the car.

Other deputies are responding to the scene.

One suspect is carrying plants to the residence.

An older model red SUV has reportedly left the property.

UPDATE 8:32 p.m.: The subject in the white car reported that he left because they were pulling the plants. Another subject is in custody. The red SUV has not been stopped yet.

UPDATE 10:41 p.m.: I inadvertently failed to publish to the home page when it was breaking. I just returned from the scene. Three people taken into custody. More info and pictures coming.

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Pair of jail inmates arraigned in city court on felony escape charges

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

A church burglary suspect who allegedly tried to escape from the Genesee County Jail had an alleged accomplice, the Sheriff's Office revealed today.

Along with 22-year-old John Anthony Cabrera, Paul Joseph Doctor, 34, of West Main Street, Batavia, is facing an escape in the first degree charge. The charge is a Class D felony.

Both were arraigned in Batavia City Court today.

According to Investigator William Ferrando, Doctor aided Cabrera by giving him a boost into the ceiling area of the jail dormitory.

Cabrera then allegedly used the jail air duct system to access the correction officer locker room and stole a CO's uniform and boots. 

Somehow, Cabrera allegedly then made his way into the basement area under Genesee Justice (the old Sheriff's Office), which effectively meant he was out of the jail and an alleged escapee.

According to Ferrando, Cabrera was unable to proceed further because by that time corrections officers discovered he was missing. Jail-escape protocols were initiated, which included law enforcement setting up a perimeter around the building at 15 W. Main St., Batavia.

The Cabrera case, which includes multiple felonies, including two felonies charged in the Town of Batavia prior to his arrest July 22 for an alleged church burglary, will be presented to the Grand Jury on Tuesday, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said. 

In the Town of Batavia, Cabrera was charged with possession of stolen property, 4th, and forgery, 2nd, for allegedly possessing a stolen credit card and using it.

At the end of June, Cabrera was arrested on misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, petit larceny and conspiracy. Cabrera, with an alleged accomplice, was accused of using a rock to smash a window of a parked car and steal a purse from the front passenger seat.

In city court today, besides the escape charge, Cabrera was arraigned on charges of burglary, 3rd, stemming from his alleged attempt to escape from the jail, and criminal mischief, 3rd, for allegedly damaging county property in the process.

Judge Robert Balbick ordered Cabrera held without bail.

"The court has discretion on bail in this matter, but it's clear to the court that no bail in this case would be appropriate," Balbick said.

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Suspect accused of spitting blood on deputy's face

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Oakfield

A 29-year-old Batavia man was jailed on a $10,000 cash bail after allegedly spitting blood on a deputy's face when the deputy attempted to arrest him at an address on Bennett Avenue, Oakfield, at 7 p.m., Thursday.

Shawn Michael Twardowski, of Montclair Avenue, Batavia, is charged with criminal contempt, 1st, and harassment, 2nd.

Twardowski was arrested by Deputy Matthew Fleming after Fleming responded to a report that Twardowski was at the address in Oakfield in violation of an order of protection.

The criminal contempt charge was elevated to the first degree because Twardowski has a second-degree criminal contempt conviction within the past five years.

As Fleming placed Twardowski under arrest, Twardowski allegedly spit blood on the deputy's face, leading to the harassment, 2nd, charge.

Bail was set at $10,000 or $25,000 bond.

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Subject taken into custody on Main Street following complaint of a fight

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime

A few minutes ago, Batavia PD took a subject into custody in the 200 block of East Main Street.

The subject was seen struggling with police after he was handcuffed.

The initial indication is he will be charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

We don't have details yet on the situation, but minutes prior to his arrest there was a complaint of two male subjects fighting, with one possibly having a baseball bat, at an other location. Sgt. John Peck said he was only aware of a verbal argument proceeding the arrest.

Mercy EMS was dispatched to Batavia Police HQ for a subject who had been sprayed with pepper spray.

UPDATE 4:23 p.m.: The subject at the police station refused medical treatment.

Friday, July 27, 2012 at 7:23 am

Law and Order: Police reportedly struggle with woman arrested on previous warrant for resisting arrest

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Darien

Samantha M. Williams, 31, of 218 State St., Batavia, is charged with resisting arrest and false personation. Batavia PD contacted Williams at 8:58, Thursday, in an attempt to execute an arrest warrant out of the Town of Hamburg on charges of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, 2nd. When Batavia PD officers attempted to arrest Williams, she allegedly gave a false name and then allegedly resisted arrest. Williams was issued an appearance ticket for city court and turned over to the Hamburg PD.

Nicole Marie Paddock, 24, of Liberty Street, Warsaw, is charged with harassment, 2nd. Paddock is accused of striking a female friend as the exited the concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center parking lot at 10:30 p.m., Thursday.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Summary of WNY district affidavit in 420 Emporium case

Yesterday our story on the raid at The 420 Emporium contained information from an affidavit we obtained that had been filed in support of a search warrant request.

It turns out, that affidavit came out of the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Today, we obtained a copy of the affidavit from the Western District, which includes Batavia, Brockport and Rochester.

Below is some of the information that is specific to the WNY affidavit, presented in the order it appears in the affidavit, omitting information covered in the previous affidavit and concentrating on items relevant to Batavia:

  • Product obtained at the stores allegedly contained controlled substance analogs known as alpha-PVP, Pentedrone, MPPP, UR-144, and AM2201.
  • The first undercover purchase was May 10 at the Brockport store. The agent inquired about "Snowblind" and "Rave." The agent paid $60 for the products and left. Tests showed the products allegedly contained Pentedrone.
  • On July 19, an undercover agent again entered the Brockport store and noticed packages of synthetic marijuana were no longer available. The agent inquired about a product called "Da Bomb." A clerk reportedly said the store did not carry the product anymore because it had been outlawed. A second clerk said the problem was the packages didn't contain a surgeon general warning and the first clerk allegedly said that somebody would "repackage that shit in like a month or two and send it back out, you know that," and the second clerk added, "You know it's going to be the same companies, different name."
  • The first alleged controlled purchase by agents in Batavia was July 2. Two undercover agents entered. The first agent inquired about Amped, Pump-It and Spice. A store clerk allegedly said the Batavia location was out of Pump-It but the Rochester store might have it. UC-1 asked if a different synethetic cannabinoid had the same watermelon flavor as "Mr. Happy." The clerk allegedly said that was like "comparing apples to oranges." The UC asked for a recommendation and the clerk said she could not recommend anything, saying "people like what they like." The agent reportedly recognized face-down packages of Amped on the counter, so asked if there was any Amped available. The agent purchased one package of Amped for $65.
  • The second agent requested a synthetic cannabinoid known as "Purple Haze." The agent said one of the product made his girlfriend's stomach sick and asked what product might make someone's stomach sick. The clerk said she didn't know and added that the product was not supposed to be used for human consumption. The clerk then sold the agent a package of "Purple Haze" for $21.60. The affidavit notes that agents made it abundantly clear they intended to use products for human consumption and the female clerk was reluctant to talk about it.
  • On July 16, two undercover agents entered the Batavia store. The first agent asked for a packet of Snowman and the clerk said the store was out of it. "The clerk further stated the brands Rave and Snowman tested positive in 'field test,' " the affidavit says. "When asked if they had anything like it the clerk said he could not lead the agent in any one direction, but then, in a not-so-subtle fashion, displayed an empty packet of Amped." The agent said he had taken "Amped" before and tried to purchase one package for $54. When the agent couldn't produce ID, the other agent allegedly made the purchase.
  • The second agent then inquired about G-13. The clerk said the product was illegal. The agent asked if any was still in stock and the clerk allegedly responded that they had "Da Bomb" and "WOW" in stock. The first agent then said, "we need papers." The clerk said he could not sell the product and papers in the same purchase "because I have to assume it is going to be consumed," allegedly adding, but "you can go outside and come back." Agent one allegedly made the synthetic cannabinoid purchase, left the store while the second agent waited, returned 10 seconds later and bought papers. 
  • During the July 16 undercover buy, the clerk advised the agents 420 Emporium had been in the news recently about bath salts. The clerk allegedly explained that he would only get into trouble if he sold bath salts for human consumption.
  • The Amped was not being kept in plain view, the agent notes in the affidavit. A sign read, "All products are intended for their legal purposes only. Any mention of illegal activity will not be tolerated. Thank you."
  • During an alleged buy in Rochester, a clerk reportedly told an agent that there were 16 remote cameras in the store that were monitored by the owner from his home.
  • The affidavit notes that the Batavia store had been subject of multiple police reports from concerned citizens and community activists. The report makes note of, but not by name, the arrest of Nicole Lang for alleged trespassing. The incident spawned increased media attention on the store and led to a protest at the location, the affidavit notes.
  • Michelle Condidorio, Joshua Denise and Austin Szczur are all named in the affidavit as suspects for arrest.
Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 1:18 pm

DEA's Operation Log Jam targeted alleged synthetic drug distributors in 109 cities

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, synthetic drugs

Raids conducted in 109 cities around the United States yesterday were the result of local law enforcement asking for help in dealing with an exploding synthetic drug problem, the head of the Drug Enforcement Adminsitration said today during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

"There was an outpouring of requests to the DEA from chiefs and sheriffs throughout the country asking for our help," said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

The press conference was carried live on DEA's website.

While there is work to be done to cut off the supplies of synthetic drug chemicals from China and other parts of Asia, it was the pleas for help from people in the United States that prompted the DEA to lead the first-ever nationwide crack down on the synthetic drug trade, called "Operation Log Jam."

"In this first take down, we wanted to go after the locations that are most impacting our communities," Leonhart said.

Operation Log Jam was a combined effort by the DEA, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with assistance from the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the FBI, Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations, as well as countless members of state and local law enforcement.

In total, 91 people were arrested, more than 4.8 million packets of synthetic cannabinoids (ex. K2, Spice) and the products to produce nearly 13.6 million more, were seized. Agents also confiscated 167,000 packets of synthetic cathinones, "bath salts," and the products to produce an additional 392,000 packets.

Of course, part of Operation Log Jam was the raids on The 420 Emporium location in Batavia, as well as the other four stores in the chain and the home in Greece of the stores' owner(s).

The operation was the largest of its kind in the history of the DEA, Leonhart said.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Raids done, Brockport PD chief willing to discuss 420 Emporium in his community

Previously we published a story looking at the communities that had head shops alleged to be selling synthetic drugs and those villages that had no such establishment.

As part of the process, we requested an interview Brockport Chief of Police Daniel Varrenti -- several times. At one point, we got the message back that he was out of the office until Thursday.

Yesterday morning as I stood outside The 420 Emporium on Ellicott Street, Batavia, and knew the same sort of raid was taking place in Brockport I thought, "ah, this is why the chief didn't want to talk to me until Thursday."

This morning, Varrenti apologized for not getting back to me. He was in fact concerned about discussing The 420 Emporium prior to the raids.

This morning while awaiting my own appearance on "Kimberly and Beck" radio show on "The Buzz," I heard a Brockport resident talk about how many people in the community there were concerned about the 420 allegedly selling bath salts and that just like in Batavia, dozens of people drove down Market Street yesterday cheering on law enforcement during the raid.

Varrenti confirmed this morning that there were people in the community concerned that the 420 might be selling synthetic drugs and were requesting police action. He said, however, as a law enforcement issue, his officers did not handle many calls similar to what we've seen in Batavia involving bizarre and violent behavior.

There were calls, he said, involving bizarre behavior, but it was never established that they were related to bath salts.

His officers, he said, weren't necessarily looking for a connection to bath salts.

"I know I've read reports where people might have denoted some psychological problems, but we do not know if it was the result of synthetic drugs," Varrenti said.

"How do we know we haven’t come across 20 of these things, but because there was no law broken all we’re going to do is bring in the person to be evaluated for (his or her) mental health and we’re never going to know what the problem was," Varrenti added.

Varrenti said as a 33-year veteran in law enforcement including more than a dozen years as a narcotics detective, many people in the community know him as an expert in narcotics.

"If I'm a quasi-expert in anything," Varrenti said. "It's narcotics."

With that background, people were looking to his department especially to do something about the perceived problem at the 420.

"Why can't you take care of this problem we have here?" Varrenti said people would ask him.

"It's very difficult because these investigations take a long time," Varrenti said. "We don't want to lock up the clerk behind the counter. We want to get to the distributor or the importer. I'm not a patient person by nature and I can only imagine what it's like for a member of the community who has a family member (who is using bath salts), and we've gotten those complaints."

In one of the affidavits used to secure search warrants for yesterday's raids,* community complaints in Brockport are used as a justification for the search.  Varrenti provided DEA agents with an email from a community member who said "it is killing our children" and implored Brockport PD to do something about it.

*NOTE: There were two affidavits used for search warrants yesterday, one for the Northern District of the U.S. Attorney's Office and one for the Western District.  Yesterday, we only had the Northern District affidavit. Today we obtained the Western District affidavit, which is full of information specific to Batavia that was not in the Northern District affidavit. In a separate post later today we'll share information from that affidavit.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 9:14 am

Clerks facing federal charges while Greece couple allegedly reaped profits

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bath salts, crime, synthetic drugs, The 420 Emporium

Michelle Condidorio Joshua Denise

The three clerks employed by The 420 Emporium and arrested Wednesday by federal agents have already been arraigned on charges that could send them away for as much as 20 years.

But with an investigation that's still pending and boxes and boxes of evidence to sort through, the defendants may yet find more charges piled on.

Authorities are especially interested in hearing from any potential witnesses who may have purchased synthetic drugs from the clerks, later ingested them and wound up in the hospital as a result.

The sentencing guidelines for people convicted of selling a controlled substance or its analog that leads to serious bodily harm requires a mandatory minimum of 20 years in a federal penitentiary.

"The judge has no choice," said William Hochul, U.S. Attorney for Western New York, during a press conference in Batavia on Wednesday evening. "You have to go to jail for at least 20 years and up to life imprisonment. As we’ve indicated in court, we believe that there is a possibility of that kind of sentence in this kind of case regardless of whether we proceed under the Analog Act or Title 21."

Taken into custody Wednesday were Joshua Denise, 37, a Batavia resident, Michelle Condidorio, 30, of Le Roy, and Austin Szczur, 22, of Rochester.

Denise and Condidorio are believed to have been employed at The 420 Emporium's Batavia location and Szczur reportedly worked in Brockport.

All three are suspected of selling packages of a product that contained alpha-PVP, a chemical that is an analog to MDPV. They are charged with possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of, a controlled substance analog.

MDPV became a controlled substance July 9 when President Barack Obama signed into law an act to ban a wide range of chemicals that are believed to be used in the synthetic drug trade.

An analog of a controlled substance is a chemical that has the same or similiar effect on a person as an illegal drug and was sold with the intent of human consumption.

"This stuff in the DEA’s eyes is just as bad as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin," said James Burns, assistant special agent in charge for the DEA. "When you’re charging $60 for a 3-gram pack of some of this stuff and it’s labeled glass cleaner or plant food or bath salt, I mean that raises a red flag with me.

"It should raise a red flag with any rational individual because we all know you can go down to the five-and-dime and buy a box of bath salts for far less than 60 bucks, or a bag of potpourri for far less than what these substances are being sold for."

The alleged sale of these synthetic drugs appears to have been quite lucrative for Charles Darwin Fitzgerald, who is the owner of The 420 Emporium chain of five stores, according to federal authorities, and his live-in girlfriend Amber Snover, who has proclaimed herself the owner, on Facebook and in a public meeting, of at least four of the stores.

The couple's home at 21 West Hills Estate in Greece is worth at least $224,000.

Authorities say they recovered more than $700,000 in cash from the six locations raided by law enforcement Wednesday.

Authorities displayed potato-sack-sized bag of cash at the press conference, stuffed full of bundles of cash in denominations from $5 to $100.

Investigators said they couldn't publicly indentify at this time which location that bag of cash was seized from, but news reporters on the scene of 21 West Hills Estate yesterday said they saw officials carrying a large sack of cash from the Fitzgerald/Snover residence.

Neither Fitzgerald nor Snover were arrested Wednesday and so far are facing no federal charges.

They are free to reopen all five of their stores today. 

All of their employees who were arrested were released from custody following their arraignments.

Officials reportedly, however, seized all of the computer and electronic communication devices in the possession of Fitzgerald and Snover, including mobile phones.

The search warrant also reportedly allowed authorities to seize any written records.

With the investigation still pending, DEA agents will presumably be looking for evidence that connects Fitzgerald and Snover to knowledge of actual sales to the public or possession of a controlled substance.

According to a search warrant affidavit, the owner or owners of the 420 were able to monitor activity in the stores via remotely operated cameras.

Burns said the only reason people sell synthetic drugs is to make money.

"Even though something is called legal doesn’t make it safe," Burns said. "These are chemicals that have never been tested on either animals or humans.

"We have no idea what the long-term effects of these substances will be, and trust me ladies and gentlemen, the folks who are selling these substances and manufacturing this stuff, they’re not in it for humanitarian reasons or altruistic reasons. That (Burns pointed to the bag of money) right there is why they’re selling thses substances."

Local and state law enforcement officials spoke to the problems synthetic drugs are causing in neighborhoods and said they have presented a serious public safety hazard and difficult law enforcement problem.

"They’re manufactured in so many different ways you don’t know what's in the contents of these packages until you actually go and test them," said Major Christopher Cummings, Troop A commander, State Police. "You don’t know the reaction that can occur when a person consumes (these products) so it makes it difficult at our level in trying to address this situation.

"Some of the drugs in these packets here may be a controlled substance under New York State penal code, but then again they may not. Our federal partners are critical in addressing this fast-moving situation that we’re in."

Hochul praised the community support in alert law enforcement to what was happening with bath salts in their neighborhoods and said that law enforcement will continue to need community support if the potential damaging effects of illicit drugs is to be minimized.

"We in law enforcement will never be able to arrest our way out of any narcotics problem, including synthetic drugs," Hochul said. "I think with the public’s assistance in identifying (the availability of) these substances in these packets as being sold in the community then they can at least help to identify targets for us."

Lt. Jim Henning, Batavia PD, said the community cooperation and support as the bath salt problem seemed to spread throughout the city in recent months has been tremendously helpful.

"It’s very reassuring when the majority of your community realizes the danger that these drugs pose to the entire community," Henning said. "We’re just extremely happy with the events that took place today in our community because we realize on a daily basis the effect it has on our community and on our citizens."

Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 7:36 am

Seven arrests, 17 citations for Nickelback show at Darien Lake

post by Howard B. Owens in crime, Darien

The following people were arrested by members of the Sheriff's Office in connection with the Nickelback concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Wednesday.

Reuben L. Bumpus, 29, of Davis Drive, Newark, is charged with 14 counts of criminal mischief, 3rd, after allegedly throwing stones damaging 14 vehicles in the employee parking lot. Bumpus was arraigned and jailed on $10,000 bail.

Robert J. Tilton, 37, of Burkhart Road, Lexington, N.C., is charged with assault, 3rd, after allegedly punching another concert patron in the face causing a severe laceration. Tilton was arraigned and jailed on $1,000 bail.

Ryan J. Johnson, 21, of Hidden Oaks Court, Grand Island, is charged with unlawfully dealing with a child, 1st, after allegedly providing alcohol to two underage females.

Doel H. Hormats, 23, of Lake Avenue, Rochester, is charged with criminal mischief, 4th, after allegedly damaging a seat in the venue.

Dustin W. Tagg, 17, of County Road, 15 Livonia, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana after allegedly being found in possession of marijuana.

Jeffrey W. Donahue, 20, of Roosevelt Highway, Waterport, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and possession of alcohol under 21 after allegedly being found in possession of marijuana and alcohol.

Leslie W. Bardak, 50, of Hardt Lane, Amherst, is charged with DWI and aggravated DWI after allegedly being found operating a motor vehicle in the parking lot in an intoxicated condition.

The following people received citations for alleged possession or consumption of alcohol under 21 years of age.

Tyler D. Hall, 18, of Route 362, Bliss
Jonathan R. Maroone, 18, of Hamburg
Kayla M. Stephenson, 18, of Middlesex Drive, Orchard Park
Carl L. Ratze, 17, of Pine Street, Franklinville
Joshua J. Fuller, 16, of Franklin Street, Franklinville
Nicholas H. Terwilliger, 17, of Johnson Street, Franklinville
Eric D. Michaelis, 16, of 2nd Avenue, Franklinville
(name redacted upon request), 17, of Florence Drive, Ransomville
(name redacted upon request), 17, of Porter Center Road, Lewiston
(name redacted upon request), 16, of Onondaga Street, Lewiston
(name redacted upon request), 16, Dickersonville Road, Ransomville
Jazzmin B. Lewis, 16, of Parkview Terrace,Cheektowaga
Lillith O. Boyd-Gamel, 18, of Pendennis Place, Cheektowaga
Nicole S. Putland, 18, of Peachtree Road, Cheektowaga
Sarah L. Williams, 17, of Staley Road, Grand Island
Kelly E. William, 20, of Staley Road, Grand Island
Tyler M. Bartlett, 18, of Kellogg Road, Springwater

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