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Jan. 2, 1932 – Feb. 20, 2013

Andrew F. Phelan, who built a reputation as a crime-fighter during his tenure in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo in the 1960s, died Wednesday in his Ellicottville home. He was 81.

Born in Brooklyn, he served in the Air Force in Japan and Korea and was a 1958 graduate of Niagara University. While working in the accounting department at the General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant, he attended the University at Buffalo Law School, where he was associate editor of the Law Review. He graduated in 1962 and was selected for the Honor Law Graduate Program at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

He first was assigned to investigate the assault on federal officers during James Meredith’s integration of the University of Mississippi, then worked on civil rights cases in Birmingham, Ala., and Albany, Ga., and helped establish the Warren Commission for the investigation of the Kennedy assassination.

Named as an assistant U.S. attorney in Buffalo in 1964, Mr. Phelan obtained 24 convictions in 28 trials in 4½ years. His biggest cases involved the conspiracy convictions of Frederico G. Randaccio, reputed to be the No. 2 Cosa Nostra leader in the Buffalo-Toronto region, and his alleged lieutenant, Pasquale A. Natarelli.

Appointed U.S. attorney in the summer of 1968, he left the following year to become the first executive director of the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, where he subpoenaed Frank Sinatra to testify in a racketeering investigation.

In 1972, Mr. Phelan was named vice president of corporate security for American Express Co. in New York City, then returned to Western New York in 1978 to practice law with George Doyle, who had been his assistant at the federal attorney’s office and in New Jersey.

He served for several months as confidential clerk to newly elected State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle in 1979.

For more than 20 years, he resided and maintained a law practice in Ellicottville.

He was a member of Ellicottville Memorial Post 659, American Legion.

Surviving are his wife of 57 years, the former Barbara Ann Collins; a son, A. Sean; three daughters, Mary Elizabeth Walls, Catherine Ann and Eileen; and two brothers, John and Joseph.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Monday in Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church, 22 Jefferson St., Ellicottville.