Assistant U.S. Attorney John McCann has given half his life to prosecuting criminals, and for most of them he's focused on illegal drug crime.
The veteran prosecutor has been assigned to the U.S. Middle District Court here since 1992, but as July came to an end, so did his career.
McCann's retirement leaves hundreds of drug dealers still behind bars, serving prison sentences and not out preying on society.
McCann didn't keep count over their numbers, but conservatively he estimates the number of his successful prosecutions at somewhere around 500 cases - most of them ending with guilty pleas rather than jury verdicts.
Early on, McCann found he had a knack for knowing which defendants were most likely to cooperate and a skill for "turning defendants into witnesses." He can't explain exactly how he can tell, other than that he can tell somehow that "they're looking for something."
Prosecuting drug cases is unpleasant work and the drug problem remains a big problem for society.
McCann believes that when he puts dealers out of business, even temporarily, it increases the odds someone out there who is tempted to try drugs for the first time won't able to make their first buy and may not destroy their life.
As a prosecutor, he credits local, state and federal drug agents with doing the really hard work necessary to keep the region's illegal drug trade in check. "They do a superb job," he said, "absolutely outstanding."
McCann grew up in Hudson Falls, N.Y., where his father was a doctor, a profession he almost followed.
Before college, the future prosecutor served three years in the Navy as a hospital corpsman and then enrolled in Georgetown University. He planned to become a doctor until a summer job with his hometown police department led him to shift from pre-med to law,.
After Georgetown, he went to law school at Syracuse University. After graduating in 1972, he spent several years in private practice before saying yes to the chance to become an assistant U.S. attorney focusing on white collar and organized crime cases in the Syracuse area.
In 1983, McCann moved on to the Albany office and began persuing drug work. He came here in 1992.
"Almost all (his cases have involved) multi-defendants (involved with) drug organizations," he said, admitting that no matter how many dealers get sent away, the drug trade goes on because of the public's appetite for illegal substances.
The drugs in vogue change with the times. In the early 1980s, powder cocaine was popular, but by the late 1980s crack cocaine became the rage and brought with it first ultra-violent Jamaican gangs known as "posses" and then home-grown gangs such as the Bloods.
The one constant is that, no matter who is supplying them, drug dealers remain and bring with them violence and contempt for authority.
Hard core dealers hate the police and prosecutors.
"Once they go to jail, they hate (and blame) their lawyers ... even though the evidence against them is overwhelming," McCann said.
The most dangerous and deadly drug is heroin, according to McCann, especially now that it's available in purer form.
Current-day heroin is at times more dangerous than the heroin sold three decades ago, he said, and it's everywhere from cities to small towns and even rural areas.
The veteran prosecutor believes it is "the biggest threat" and its usage has been "epidemic" for more than a decade.
McCann said he wishes the media and lawmakers would pick up on the dangers of heroin.
"Heroin is the most addictive drug out there," he said, and is even more addictive and deadly, the younger the individual is who uses it.
He has never had a witness killed as a result of their testimony in a drug case, he said, but he has lost heroin users who were witnesses and later overdosed.
They died because they couldn't stay clean, he said. "The penalties for heroin need to be hyped up. The guidelines are too low."
One packet of heroin which is about 200th of a gram can kill someone if they use it all and have never done the drug before, he said
However, prosecutors need to link at least 5,000 packets to a defendant under today's sentencing guidelines to get a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. By comparison, 50 grams of crack cocaine can get a dealer a 10-year mandatory minimum.
When he began taking drug cases, McCann said he believed he and the law enforcement professionals he worked with could have an impact, but as time passed he had to accept the fact that their impact could be only one person at a time.
All they can really do is put away as many dealers as possible, he said.
McCann is proud of his career and the local, state and federal drug enforcement personnel he's worked with along the way.
"Law enforcement has done its job in keeping the community from being overrun," he said. "Without them, drug use would be much more widespread."
"It will never be eliminated," he added, "until somebody comes up with a way to stop the insatiable desire this country has for illegal drugs."