One day after announcing a major Blair County drug bust, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office followed up with a huge takedown in Cambria County that rippled all the way to Pittsburgh.
According to the Office of Attorney General, criminal charges were recommended by a statewide investigating grand jury, which identified Curtis Harper, a Pittsburgh resident, as the head of the organization.
Harper is facing 59 counts of various charges, including 49 counts of delivery of a controlled substance (heroin).
Charges were also filed against more than 30 others identified in the investigation that Kane’s office called “Operation Flood City Smackdown,” a joint endeavor between the Bureau of Narcotics Investigation, the FBI, Cambria County Drug Task Force and local police departments including State College, Ferguson and Patton townships and Penn State.
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An OAG release said the ring was responsible for putting more than 9,100 bricks of heroin with a value of $2.7 million on the street during 13 months.
“This was a case where heroin was being sold in public housing complexes where many children live,” Kane said. “The work of our agents and law enforcement partners will have a substantial impact on the communities where these drugs were being sold.”
Harper’s operation allegedly worked from Allegheny through Indiana, Somerset, Blair and Huntingdon counties. Active warrants have been issued in the case that might be pursued as far as Erie and Buffalo, N.Y., the OAG said.
The grand jury found that Harper purchased large quantities of heroin in the Pittsburgh area, then sent it to central Pennsylvania by couriers, some of whom were addicted to heroin.
According to the OAG, the heroin was sold in Johnstown and the surrounding areas between February 2015 and March of this year.
“It is alleged that Harper would position his dealers at a specific residence, supply them with bricks of heroin and then direct buyers to the residence by telephone. Harper’s mother and the mother of his child also have been criminally charged in connection with his alleged drug organization,” Kane’s office said.
Investigators said the heroin was “sold predominantly” in a Johnstown low-income housing complex. They said Harper sold about 25 bricks per day, with each brick containing 50 bags of heroin. At $200 and $300 per brick, Harper’s operation pulled in $150,000 and $225,000 per month.
Kane’s office said Harper and several others have been arrested based on multiple search warrants executed in both Johnstown and Pittsburgh. Those searches returned five handguns, about $60,000 in cash, 133 bricks of heroin valued at about $46,500, roughly 21 grams of raw heroin, cutting agents, two money counters and drug paraphernalia. Four vehicles, including a 2009 Mercedes-Benz and a 2010 Acura, also were seized during the investigation.
Kane pointed to a rise in drug overdose deaths, specifically heroin-related deaths, in recent years.
In Centre County, those incidents have been on the rise. Two high-profile cases believed to be overdose-related have garnered headlines in the first months of the year, namely the February death of Corinne Pena, whose body was dumped in Ferguson Township, and Noah Jones, who was found dead in late March on a Megabus stopped in Patton Township.
Centre County Coroner Scott Sayers said that there have been four confirmed overdose deaths in 2016, with three more likely overdoses still awaiting toxicology results.