Leader of cocaine ring guilty on all counts

Jermaine Samuel of Altoona was convicted Wednesday afternoon of multiple drug offenses stemming from his employment as the “manager” of a local cocaine distribution ring based at the Corner Bar and Grille, 1001 Eighth Ave.

Prosecutors allege Samuel began working with the organization on Jan. 29, 2011, two days after his parole from a state correctional institution where he had served time on prior drug charges.

Susan McNaughton, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said Samuel was in a state prison for Blair County drug offenses from April 27, 2009, until his parole on Jan. 27, 2011.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman said Samuel faces another “substantial” prison sentence but would not speculate on the number of years he likely will receive from Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron.

After a jury found the 33-year-old Samuel guilty of 10 charges, including possession with intent to deliver, participating in a corrupt organization, criminal use of a communication facility and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity, Milliron ruled Samuel was not eligible for bail.

The judge will sentence Samuel in May after a presentence investigation is completed.

Samuel’s attorney, Matthew Gieg, also would not speculate on Samuel’s potential sentence, but a prison term imposed on another member of the drug organization shows that Gorman’s prediction of a substantial sentence could come true

Judge Elizabeth Doyle recently sentenced Natasha Q. Miller, 32, of Altoona to 16 to 32 years. Prosecutors maintained that Miller, a first-time offender, took care of the financial end of the business, while Samuel prepared the cocaine for distribution and sold it to the lower-level dealers.

Samuel’s attorney told the jury Wednesday morning that he should be found not guilty of the many charges against him because the evidence was circumstantial.

Gieg said when police raided Samuel’s Altoona home in November 2011, no drugs were found. While agents listened to many of Samuel’s phone calls, they never arrested him with cocaine in his possession.

He argued that the testimony against Samuel came from drug users and dealers, legally considered “corrupt and polluted” sources.

Gieg said that police officers and agents who testified Samuel was the central figure in the drug ring based their conclusions on faulty interpretations of the phone calls they were monitoring.

When it came his turn, Gorman said police not only correctly concluded Samuel was organizing and carrying out large drug deals, but he said police on Nov. 3, 2011, followed one of the women Samuel employed to transport drugs from Baltimore to Altoona and, during a traffic stop of Interstate 99, found the 365 grams of cocaine in her purse.

Investigators did not make a move against the drug organization until Nov. 3, 2011, because, Gorman argued, their goal was not to arrest one drug dealer but to take down the entire organization.

They followed the money and the drugs, and it took them to the Corner Bar, to Baltimore and to a state correctional institution.

Police contend, the leader of the group was Damion Floyd, 33, of Baltimore, who is housed at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill.

Floyd was sentenced to a short jail term in 2011, and, knowing he was off to jail, put Miller and Samuel in charge of the day-to-day operation, Gorman told the jury.

During the trial, the prosecution played a series of recordings in which Samuel was telling his dealers to be careful because he happened to see an agent from the Attorney General’s Office, former Altoona officer Norman “Dusty” Young, in his neighborhood.

Gorman emphasized to the jury that Samuel was aware of the police, and although Young was not part the prosecution team in Samuel’s case, he appeared for Gorman’s closing argument Wednesday morning. Gorman had him stand and introduced him to the jurors.

Samuel did not have any comment when the jury returned its verdicts, but he looked straight ahead and began rocking furiously in his chair at the defense table.

His wife, Lieesha, was in the court when the jury returned and quickly exited after the judge spoke.

More cases are expected in the break-up of the Baltimore-to-Altoona drug organization.

Floyd, the alleged leader of the organization, Rodney Williams, the reported cocaine source from Baltimore and accused mid-level dealer Stephen Piner, are all expected to go to trial.

Other arrests are also expected, police indicated.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.