By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — The co-owners of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (L.O.E.G.) store in Niagara Falls have been charged with trafficking in pirated DVDs and CDs and selling untaxed cigarettes.
Christopher Bevilacqua, 33, and Milton Williams, 30, both of 3667 Ferry Ave., were each charged with a felony count of first-degree failure to disclose origin of a recording, a misdemeanor count of attempt to evade or defeat New York State tobacco products tax and a violation count of unlawful possession of marijuana.
Bevilacqua and Williams, identified by police as brothers, were arraigned in Falls City Court on Friday and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
They were arrested Thursday night after a task force of Falls police detectives, narcotics investigators, State Police and state tax authorities, Border Patrol agents and an investigator from the American music industry swooped into their business in the 2900 block of Pine Avenue earlier in the day.
It wasn’t the first time law enforcement authorities had paid a visit to the sparsely stocked store. The business was the scene of a bold daylight shooting in mid-January and Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto said the store had aroused police suspicions.
“You know what they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire and so we went to work (investigating the business),” DalPorto said.
The results of that investigation led to the seizure of a treasure trove of bootleg DVDs and CDs and a bounty of illegal, untaxed tobacco products. Investigators estimated they found hundreds of counterfeit DVDs of popular movies and TV shows.
There were an equal number of copied CDs from musical artists, including Beyonce. Detectives also found dozens of cartons of brand name cigarettes without state tax stamps.
Investigators were also taking a close look at brand name clothing found in the store to see if it too was counterfeit.
“We were looking at (activity at the store) before the shooting,” Narcotics Division Capt. Dave LeGault said. “They were certainly on our radar. But the investigations didn’t really yield anything.”
Criminal Investigation Division detectives were convinced the shooting was not an act of random violence, so narcotics investigators decided to change their course.
“After the shooting, we were directed by the chief to take a different angle (in looking into the business),” LeGault said.
Narcotics detectives changed their focus and discovered they could buy untaxed cigarettes at the store.
At the same time, criminal detectives were moving beyond their initial investigation of the shooting.
“We were looking at other avenues,” Detective Lt. Mike Trane said. “When we were (at the store investigating the shooting), we observed some stuff that even to the untrained eye appeared to be counterfeit.”
An investigator with the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), who was in the store with police, confirmed that the DVDs and CDs were pirated copies of the copyrighted originals. Bevilacqua was behind the counter of the store when the task force of officers and agents arrived.
Trane said the investigation of the shooting is continuing. He said investigators have been able to question the only possible witness in the case, but that he was not cooperative.
“He said he didn’t see anything and didn’t know anything,” Trane said.
It was mid-afternoon on Jan. 15 when a lone suspect fired three or four shots from across the street toward the business. The suspect then ran to a dark-colored vehicle and fled the area, going north on 29th Street.
No one was hit by the gunfire, but the glass in the store’s front door was shattered.
Witnesses reported seeing a man fire three or four shots into the door from what police believe was a small-caliber handgun.Contact reporter Rick Pfeiffer at 282-2311, ext. 2252.