BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - John Smith was the focus of a major drug investigation, but just weeks before he could be sentenced, he died. Now federal prosecutors want to know if Smith could still be alive.
Smith led the Afro Dogs motorcycle club in Buffalo until police busted him on cocaine charges. He died around two months ago before he could be sentenced. According to minutes of a federal court proceeding earlier this month, prosecutors have concerns about the manner of death and questions about whether he actually died.
But that's not sitting well with Smith's criminal defense attorney, Joseph Terranova, who says the government had an opportunity to confirm his death. Terranova even sent prosecutors the death certificate which lists the immediate cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia.
"It's outrageous," he said. "I'm hopeful that somebody over on Delaware Avenue in the U.S. Attorney's Office is going to wake up from this bad dream, and they're going to realize just how stupid this is."
Smith died in June, and was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, according to the death certificate. Normally the indictment would be dismissed, but now prosecutors have asked the judge in the case for time to investigate, which could include disinterment.
Though News 4 Legal Analyst Terry Connors calls it a rare move, he says prosecutors have the right to do it.
"They'd have to articulate some basis for why they feel that it is not the right person currently in the mausoleum," Connors said. "Something more than just a mere hunch or guess that would not permit you to go in and exhume a body."
Terranova says it peculiar as to why the death certificate is not enough for government prosecutors to dismiss the indictment.
"We have a government that's still looking for Jimmy Hoffa's remains and Elvis Presley and all kinds of sightings that occur all over the country. I don't whether there's been a report of a John Smith sighting somewhere, but I'm not aware of it," he quipped.
And Terranova says though Smith's family was prepared to see him serve time, they are not prepared for what the government may now be asking.
"At this point, to even make a suggestion that he's still alive, I think is cruel," Terranova said.
News 4 reached out to U.S. Attorney William Hochul for comment but were told he was unavailable.
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