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March 26, 2013 - 11:33pm

Bookies sentenced, continue to complain about lead investigator in the case

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime.

The three Batavia men who admitted taking part in a bookmaking operation received on Tuesday pretty much the sentence Judge Robert Balbick promised them when they were last in court March 5.

The slight variation was that instead of 120 days in a weekend work program with the Sheriff's Office, the three men will work weekends in community service over the next 90 days.

The change was requested by the Sheriff's Office because of limited openings in the program.

Gregory Phillips, Brian Bordinaro and Lance Engel all declined to make statements to Balbick prior to their sentencing.

Phillps and Engel received, as requested, a "release from civil disability" from Balbick. The signed form will allow both men to pursue second careers. Phillips is attending barber school and will graduate soon.

The three men were also fined $1,000 each. They also can't gamble in any form -- online or off -- during their three years of probation. Their computers will be subject to warrantless search during probation.

All three had entered guilty pleas to a Class A misdemeanor charge of promoting gambling, 2nd, which was quite a step down from the original felony charges, especially the Class B felony charge of enterprise corruption.

There's never been a clear public answer from anybody involved in the case about why the charges were so greatly reduced.

Today, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman would only say, "there are a number of considerations that came into play, just like any case. We consider a lot of different things and when all things were considered in this case, all the things that were relevant, we felt this was the appropriate disposition."

Attorney Larry Andolina, representing Phillips, has accused the Sheriff's Office, and in particular, Sgt. Steve Mullen, at one time head of the Sheriff's major crime unit (the Local Drug Enforcement Task Force), of "mishandling the case."

Asked about Andolina's charge, Friedman said, "I'm not going to comment on anything to do with the Sheriff's Office or Sgt. Mullen or the investigation. We came to what we felt was an appropriate disposition to the case."

For the first time since the story of the bookmaking operation -- which Friedman still contends was substantial -- first broke more than a year ago, Phillips spoke with the media after his sentencing.

He didn't say much.

Asked what he thought of his sentence, he said, "I can't comment on the sentence today."

Asked if he had proof that Mullen placed bets with him, Phillips said, "Through legal and civil counsel I'm not able to comment on that right now."

Asked if the DA or the Sheriff's Office were involved in a cover up, Phillps responded, "i'm sure the DA's office and the Sheriff's Office wouldn't have done any kind of cover up. I would hope there wouldn't be any kind of cover-up in this investigation, but I'll let my attorney answer that one, too."

Asked if the case should never have had happened, Phillips said, "there will be other things brought out. I can't really comment other than (through) my legal attorney and my civil attorney. There will be other things that come out and we'll go from there."

Asked if his civil rights had been violated, Phillips said, "That will be for another jury to decide."

After the former city firefighter was reminded that this was his first opportunity to make a public comment on the case since being accused of taking illegal bets, and whether he had anything he wanted to say to the community he once served, Phillips only said, "no comment."

When asked about how the allegations against Mullen probably led to reduced changes against him, Bordinaro and Engel, again, Phillips said, "no comment."

Andolina stepped in at that point and was asked the same question.

"In the grand scheme of things, this case was resolved in a fashion like many gambling cases where the defendants have no prior record," Andolina said.

Andolina did say he believed Mullen had placed bets with one or more of the defendants.

Under repeated questioning, Andolina refused to offer up proof, however.

"I just said to you, we gave them (Friedman and Sheriff Gary Maha) the information and they have it," Andolina said.

Maha has said there was an internal affairs investigation that was terminated when Mullen retired from the Sheriff's Office.

Asked if he thought the District Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Office had handled the situation with Mullen appropriately, Andolina said he did.

"I think he commenced an investigation," Andolina said. "They're both professionals. I have no reason to believe they didn't do their jobs appropriately."

Asked if the outcome involving Mullen was sufficient, or if more should be done, such as bringing criminal charges, Andolina indicated enough is enough.

"I don't know if there's enough for a criminal case and it's over," Andolina said. "The case is over. The sentence is what the judge indicated the sentence would be. He was within his discretion to sentence in that fashion and now it's time for these people to get on with their lives."

However, Andolina did confirm that his client is looking into a civil case based on alleged civil rights violations.

Asked what the basis of the case would be, "the conduct of the Sheriff's Office," was all he would say.

Later Tuesday evening, WIVB's George Richert aired a story accusing Mullen of placing bets and a "conflict of interest" in the case. The only evidence to back the claim offered by Richert was a report by a private investigator hired by the defense who claims Mullen placed -- years before this case arose -- 47 phone calls to the bookies. No gambling records were produced to indicate that Mullen actually placed bets.

UPDATE: The Buffalo News has published a more thorough story on Mullen's alleged involvement in the case.

Photos: Top, Phillips; second, Bordinaro in blue shirt; bottom, Engel.

RICHARD L. HALE's picture
Last seen: 2 years 7 months ago
Joined: May 22 2009 - 9:50pm

Geeeeeezzzz....did the judge give them all a kiss on the cheek before they left court?

Talk about a big deal turning into nothing....

mark jackett
mark jackett's picture
Last seen: 5 years 11 months ago
Joined: Apr 13 2009 - 10:59am

what dirty cops nooooooo, no-way, not here not in a small county

Daniel Palmer
Daniel Palmer's picture
Last seen: 1 year 4 months ago
Joined: May 7 2012 - 12:00pm

I see a Lifetime movie in the making...I BET it happens.

Jenna LaBarbera
Jenna LaBarbera's picture
Last seen: 6 years 10 months ago
Joined: Jan 27 2009 - 11:50am

Continue to "complain" .... nice choice of wording. Ch. 4 and the Buffalo News don't seem to view it as complaining. They seem to think its a legitimate story, because it is - a clear abuse of power. And the reason the charges were SO GREATLY REDUCED is because the charges were so BLOWN OUT OF PORPORTION. Funny that Mullen was fired from the Holley School District too ... but let me guess, Mullen told you he was going to quit there long before he was fired right ;)

Howard B. Owens
Howard B. Owens's picture
Last seen: 1 day 17 hours ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm

In context of yesterday's interviews, you have Phillips and Andolina eager to lob accusations, not so eager to provide proof.

WIVB's story is very weak and lacks substance.

Later, after we posted this, the Buffalo News came out with a more credible story.

We've been inviting the Bordinaro, Phillips and Engel camp for months to provide proof of the accusations, since they and their supports have claimed to have it. They've steadfastly refused until going to out-of-town news agencies, apparently because they didn't like the honest and accurate reporting about their case locally.

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