Piner: Cocaine became way to pay for habit

Accused drug dealer Kenneth J. Piner Sr. of Altoona took the witness stand Monday afternoon to tell a Blair County jury that he became involved in the cocaine business after he hurt his shoulder and back in a workplace accident and then became addicted to pain pills prescribed by a doctor.

Piner said he had a good job with Galliker’s Dairy in Johnstown until he was injured by what he called a “blowback” from one of the company machines.

He said until that point he had a wife and family but his marriage became strained after the accident because he was paying $60 a pill to feed his habit.

He decided to get into the cocaine business so that he could trade cocaine for the pills he needed.

His attempt to satisfy his habit without depleting the family bank account didn’t work.

Piner said his wife, who is now deceased, changed the locks on their residence and he had to find another place to live.

He moved in with a young Johnstown woman who allegedly was also addicted to opiates.

They eventually came to Altoona to live with his daughter and then the couple moved into the Corner Bar and Grille at 1001 Eighth Ave., which police said was being used by a local drug ring to distribute cocaine throughout the city.

At the time of his arrest in November 2011, Piner and his girlfriend, Aubrey Moore, had moved to the Hitching Post, a city bar.

Piner was in the process of remodeling it into a soul food restaurant, which he said is one of his passions. That restaurant was to be a legacy for his children, he said.

Piner, 52, was caught on a cellphone conversation taped by police stating he didn’t want any “dirty money” invested in the restaurant.

In answering questions from his attorney, R. Thomas Forr Jr., he said he knew that police, if they ever arrested him, would take that legacy from his children if cocaine money was used to remodel it.

Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron, presiding over the Piner trial, decided late Monday afternoon to recess the trial which was in its ninth day of testimony.

Piner will be the first witness today, and he is expected to deny his involvement in the Altoona-based cocaine ring operating out of the Corner Bar.

Police have charged that Piner was part of the organization which brought large amounts of cocaine from Baltimore to Altoona in 2010 and 2011.

He is charged with six drug sales to police informants, but the most serious charges against him stem from a shipment of 365 grams of cocaine that was intercepted by police as it was being transported to Altoona early on Nov. 4, 2011.

He is charged with conspiring with leaders of the organization, identified by police as Damion Floyd and Rodney Williams of Baltimore and Jermaine Samuel, Natasha Miller and Shonda Hicks of Altoona.

In speaking to the jury Monday, Forr said, “It is our position Kenny Piner never entered into an agreement with Jermaine Samuel, Natasha Miller and Shonda Hicks.”

In a statement Piner gave police after his arrest, he said he had multiple sources for his cocaine, including Gene “Shorty” Carter and Thomas Rhone of Altoona and cocaine dealers in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Arlington, Va.

Carter is serving a minimum of 104 years in prison for his Altoona drug activity while Rhone was sentenced last year to a minimum of 20 years.

Forr told the jury that Piner didn’t even know the real names of Floyd and Samuel. Floyd went by the name of “Benny” while in Altoona and Samuel was known only as “Shawn.”

Piner knew the general operation of the drug organization and that large amounts of cocaine were coming from Baltimore, but he had no part in paying for or bringing the drugs to the city, Forr said.

An Altoona native, Piner is expected to testify to this today.

The defense is expected to lash out at the confidential informants who purchased cocaine from Piner on behalf of police.

The first defense witness was Tracy Piner, Ken’s sister, who admitted to being a crack addict and who testified that one of the confidential informants was smoking crack the day he allegedly purchased it from Piner.

Her testimony was a defense attempt to show that the informant was a liar, because he testified earlier in the trial that he did not renew his cocaine habit until after the alleged sale between he and Piner on Nov. 30, 2010, at Tracy Piner’s apartment.

Forr also intensely cross-examined Agent James Walstrom, who supervised drug operations for the Pennsylvania Attorney General in seven central Pennsylvania counties.

Walstrom presented a chart showing who was in the organization.

Floyd was the perceived leader with Williams the Baltimore supplier.

Miller, Hicks and Samuel took care of the day-to-day operation, Walstrom’s chart showed.

That chart also depicted Ken Piner, his brother, Stephen, and his nephew, Glenn, as major distributors of the cocaine once it was processed for sale at the Corner Bar.

Forr, referring to taped phone conversations, listed the names of nine individuals who were heard purchasing cocaine for sale but who have not been arrested.

He wanted to know why their pictures were not on the chart.

Walstrom said the reason they weren’t on the chart is because they haven’t yet been arrested.

The agent also estimated that between July 15, 2011, and Oct. 17, 2011, the organization made a profit of $134,750, based on the sales police knew about and tracked.

He estimated Ken Piner was making the equivalent of $82,125 per year selling $50 baggies of cocaine.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.