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When James M. Hamilton was arrested in the fall, his colleagues on the Buffalo police force discovered a marijuana-growing operation in the basement of his Floss Avenue home.

They also uncovered evidence of the rookie cop selling a half-pound of marijuana that same day.

Less than three months later, Hamilton, 29, is taking a plea deal that could send him to federal prison for up to two years.

“He’s paid a heavy price for his drug dealing,” said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “He lost his job, and now he’s lost his freedom.”

Hamilton, who was fired after his arrest in November, pleaded guilty before Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny to distributing marijuana.

As part of his plea deal, he admitted owning the 80 or so marijuana plants and 3 to 4 pounds of processed marijuana that were found at his East Side home.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch said Hamilton also admitted selling a half-pound of marijuana earlier that day to a confidential source working with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

At the time of the sale, he was carrying his police-issued .40-caliber Glock handgun.

“He deeply regrets his actions,” said Thomas J. Eaonnou, Hamilton’s defense lawyer. “He chose to plead guilty rather than cause future embarrassment for the Buffalo Police Department.”

Eaonnou said Hamilton also avoided a possible weapons conviction and a mandatory five-year prison sentence as part of his plea deal. A shotgun was found at his home.

Hamilton, who was under surveillance, was called to Police Headquarters after the sale to the confidential source and was arrested.

Derenda said the investigation into Hamilton began in May and was led by his Internal Affairs and Narcotics bureaus.

“Ninety-nine percent of our officers do the right thing,” the commissioner said Thursday, “and what he did should not tarnish their badges.”

Hamilton’s sentencing is scheduled June 18.

His guilty plea is the result of an investigation by Buffalo police, the Sheriff’s Office and the DEA.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com