Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cocaine Concerns Grow after Penn Hills Bust $10.5 Million Worth of Drug Seized, 3 Arrested in Raid

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cocaine Concerns Grow after Penn Hills Bust $10.5 Million Worth of Drug Seized, 3 Arrested in Raid

Article excerpt

The seizure of cocaine with a street value of $10.5 million and the arrest of three men in the drug bust Tuesday in Penn Hills underscores a growing concern about hard drugs taking root in Allegheny County's eastern suburbs, authorities said.

"We've got a battle in the East Hills, in the eastern sections of our county," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. cautioned several police chiefs, who joined him for a news conference Wednesday about the bust.

"Even the scope of the type of drugs that you guys are taking off the streets -- that's not a good sign," he said.

Mr. Zappala said the bust yielded the largest amount of cocaine he has seen in 15 years as DA.

The investigation is ongoing, and authorities were executing two more search warrants Wednesday in an effort that began last week in Monroeville. One search warrant Wednesday yielded 4 more kilograms of cocaine -- bringing the total seized to 21 kilograms.

Leland Cobbs, 42, of Homewood and Faustino Hernandez Rodriguez, 36, of Mexico are each charged with criminal conspiracy, possession with intent to deliver and drug possession. William E. Wilson Jr., 42, of Penn Hills is charged with receiving stolen property, a firearms violation and criminal conspiracy. The firearms violation stems from Wilson's previous felony conviction, which bars him from having a gun.

They are being held at the Allegheny County Jail. Mr. Zappala said he could not explain the connection among the three men.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Pittsburgh field office is now assisting in the investigation, and authorities are looking into possible connections to a Mexican drug cartel.

"Obviously, this is not a matter that's going to begin or end at the borders of Pennsylvania," Mr. Zappala said. "It's going to go far beyond that."

Gary Davis, assistant special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh DEA, said "the majority of cocaine in this area does come from the Mexican border," though it's not yet clear where exactly the batch seized Tuesday is from.

"We're seeing a heavier influence of Mexican distribution organizations in this area as we've gone along," Mr. Davis said. "And there, preliminarily, seems to be some indication that's the case in this investigation."

Tuesday's bust stemmed from a meeting last week between Mr. Zappala and local law enforcement officials who have noticed an uptick in drug activity in the eastern part of the county, including at a Days Inn in Monroeville.

In that discussion, Monroeville police Chief Steven Pascarella expressed concern that because of "the nature of the road system," the eastern suburbs were becoming a destination point for drug transactions and criminals dealing in stolen property from burglaries, Mr. Zappala said.

Wilson's neighbors, who did not wish to use their names, said they were surprised to learn about the drug bust on their normally quiet, well-kept street, Pinewood Square, where traffic is normal and children play outside in the summer. …

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