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December 28, 2010

2010's Top News Stories — No. 3: Warme case wraps up with prison sentence

By Rick Pfeiffer Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — At times he was stoic.

More often, he appeared defiant.

In the two years following his arrest on federal drug, guns and civil rights sex crimes charges, Ryan Warme never once appeared ready to take responsibility for his actions or express remorse for them.

Then, as U.S. District Court Judge Richard Arcara prepared to send him to prison for more than a decade, Warme suddenly decided to confront what both his lawyer and Arcara called his “dark side.”

Warme’s guilty plea to some of the crimes he was accused of and his resulting almost 14-year prison term puts him on the Gazette’s Top 10 stories of 2010 list. It is the third year in a row that Warme’s case has landed him in the Top 10.

His three-year run on the list of the year’s most important stories is the result of his, in his own lawyer’s words, crossing “a line that few police officers (have) crossed.”

“He blames no one but himself,” defense attorney Joel Daniels said. “(His) experiments with drugs, the decline into addiction and the lure of the dark drug culture, always a dead end street, overcame all of the hard work that went before.”

By almost any measure, Warme had unlimited potential when he was appointed to the Falls police force in 2005 and hit the streets in 2006. The son of a respected and decorated police captain, the department brass had high expectations of him.

Yet federal prosecutors claimed Warme was spiraling out of control almost from the moment he strapped on a gun and put on a badge.

In the original criminal complaint filed against him, Warme was accused of attacking two women while on duty. An FBI agent claimed Warme committed an act of forced sodomy on one woman, while they were involved in a consensual relationship in August 2006.

A second woman said Warme attacked her in her apartment in October 2006, also while he was on duty.

The trouble didn’t stop there. Warme was also accused of groping and fondling a woman during a pat-down following a traffic stop and he was charged with extorting sexual favors from a prostitute.

Investigators charged Warme bought “substantial quantities of cocaine” from a well-known Niagara Falls drug dealer. In some cases he even drove to the drug dealer’s apartment in his marked Niagara Falls Police Department patrol car.

However, it was his actions toward other Cataract City cops that may have been the most chilling.

Warme, according to Falls Police and FBI investigators, routinely relayed sensitive law enforcement information to drug dealers and others, including the locations of drug raids and who narcotics and patrol officers might be looking for.

“This guy had no boundaries,” Narcotics Division Capt. Morris Shamrock said. “He put people’s lives at risk.”

In April, Warme took a deal from federal prosecutors. At his plea hearing he told his parents he had decided it was “too risky” to go to trial.

He pleaded guilty to three of nine remaining counts in an 11-count indictment that he originally faced. Arcara had previously dismissed two of the charges against him, tossing a charge that Warme had extorted sexual favors from a prostitute and throwing out an honest services charge, calling it “deficient.”

Warme admitted he inappropriately groped a woman during a traffic stop, conspired with a Falls drug dealer to distribute cocaine and bought cocaine while he was on duty as a police officer.

Daniels said Warme’s father, mother and brother, who is a highly regarded Falls Police patrol officer were all “angered, saddened and ashamed of Ryan’s conduct.” Arcara said he too struggled to understand what had gone wrong with Warme.

“I’m just trying to figure out why someone who had all this going for him would throw it all away,” the judge said.

In his final court appearance before heading to prison, Warme finally offered an explanation. He said he was paying a price for his “temper.”

“I shamed my family and humiliated myself,” Warme said with emotion creeping into his voice for the very first time. “There are no excuses.”

He said he apologized to his victims, his parents and the police officers of Niagara Falls.

“I don’t know if anyone will accept my apologies,” Warme said, “but I mean them.”

He told Arcara he would try to “reform” his life while he does time behind bars. One of the men who oversaw his prosecution suggested Warme’s remorse came “a little late.”

“It’s all well and good to be remorseful now,” United States Attorney William Hochul said. “But he should have lived up to the ideals of the Niagara Falls Police Department.”