Legal Analysis of FBI Raid on Buffalo City Hall

Federal Agents recently raided Buffalo City Hall. FBI agents along with agents from the investigative arm of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) conducted what was described as “court authorized activities” for over eight hours inside Buffalo City Hall.

WGRZ 2 On Your Side reported on the raid and interviewed attorney Barry Covert to provide legal analysis as part of their coverage of the story.

As reported by WGRZ, the raid was for the execution of a court authorized search warrant. The FBI would not disclose what they were looking for or what the raid was connected to. However, the activity focused primarily on the Office of Strategic Planning, which is located on the third floor of Buffalo City Hall.

Several agents worked behind a guarded closed door for over eight hours. News cameras captured federal agents removing several carts containing boxes of documents covered in tarps. A spokesperson for the FBI indicated that, as part of the search warrant, agents spoke with a number of people who work in the Office of Strategic Planning.

WGRZ anchor Scott Levin spoke with attorney Barry Covert to provide legal analysis on the FBI raid. The following is a summary of the legal analysis provided by Mr. Covert. You can read WGRZ’s full report by clicking here. You can also click on the video below to watch WGRZ’s full report, which includes Barry Covert’s legal analysis.

Search Warrant vs. Grand Jury Subpoena

Barry Covert began his analysis of the FBI raid on Buffalo City Hall by stating “It was really pretty extravagant that they did it this way. Usually they will issue a grand jury subpoena, it’s secretive, they’ll get all those documents.”  Mr. Covert then discussed the differences between a grand jury subpoena and a search warrant, saying “when they jump up to a search warrant and they don’t give any prior notice, and apparently city officials said they had no prior notice, that means that they went to a magistrate, they asked for permission to do this, and they did it in a very public way.” Mr. Covert went on to explain “the reason you go from a grand jury subpoena not being good enough to a search warrant is because you believe those documents may go missing. You don’t believe, as the government, that the target will turn over all the documents so you want to go get them yourself and take them out of there.”

Criminal Investigation

Barry Covert was asked if we should assume this is part of a criminal investigation or civil investigation. He stated that because a search warrant was involved in this raid, it is a criminal investigation. Mr. Covert continued “for search warrants to be issued you have to show a magistrate that there is probable cause to believe that you will find evidence of criminality at that location.  So that is a very criminal proceeding and a federal court judge agreed that there was probably cause.”

Federal Agent Activity

Scott Levin pointed out that it appeared as though agents took an awful lot of files from the office in Buffalo City Hall. Mr. Covert reviewed some of the facts of the raid including that for eight hours there were six agents at any given time doing the search with one agent watching the door. Mr. Covert also noted that the agents let it be known what they were doing and “they did not ask that the cameras not be there to film them doing this.”