BATAVIA, N.Y. (WIVB) - Two former Batavia firefighters who were at the center of a gambling investigation were sentenced Tuesday and will not serve jail time. But there has been a new twist in the case.
On Tuesday, News 4 obtained a seven-page copy of a private investigation that implies that the lead investigator in this case may have been gambling himself before busting the two former firefighters.
Former Batavia firefighters Greg Phillips and Brian Bordinaro, as well as Lance Engel, a former chef at VA Nursing Home in Batavia, all lost their jobs and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sports gambling. They were told three weeks ago they will likely be sentenced to 16 weekends of public service.
News 4 has learned that a private investigation uncovered a series of phone calls from former Genesee County Sheriff Sergeant Steven Mullen to the accused gamblers that dates back years, long before Mullen became the lead investigator who ultimately arrested the trio for gambling.
News 4 brought this up to the defendants and their attorneys three weeks ago, and they chose their words carefully:
News 4 asked Phillips, "Was there a conflict of interest with Sergeant Mullen?"
He answered laughing, "Sounds like you know something."
Phillips' attorney Larry Andolina said, "The investigation was not handled appropriately."
News 4 asked, "By Sergeant Mullen?"
Andolina said, "You might want to ask Larry Friedman that."
News 4 asked Genesee County District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, "Do you think there was a conflict of interest in this case?"
Friedman said, "I'm not going to speculate on that."
Retired Erie County Undersheriff Richard Donovan was hired by the accused gamblers to conduct the private investigation. Donovan found Mullen made a total of 47 phone calls to one of the defendants. He says this is proof that Mullen and Mullen's brother were both placing bets with one of the gamblers.
"I'm not going to comment on anything to do with the sheriff's office or Sgt. Mullen or this investigation," Friedman said. "We came to what we felt was an appropriate disposition of this case."
The DA's office and the Genesee County sheriff were made aware of the private investigation last June. Sgt. Mullen stayed on in the department until December, when he happened to retire within days of a plea agreement in the gambling case.
Sgt. Mullen signed the affidavit on the search warrant in this case. And now, the gamblers may file a civil case over this possible conflict of interest.
News 4 asked Gregory Phillips if he felt his civil rights were violated in this case. He responded, "That will be for another jury to decide."
Mullen declined our request for comment. Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha disputes the 47 calls as solid evidence of betting, saying it only proves the calls were made.
Sheriff Maha says the only way to prove that Mullen was placing bets was to hear it from the three men operating the gambling ring. But because all three were in talks for plea agreements, they couldn't talk to the sheriff. And by the time they reached their plea agreements, Mullen retired on his own terms.
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