Piner: Drug abuse cost me my job, wife, kids

HOLLIDAYSBURG – In his statements to police and a grand jury, and his testimony in court this week, Kenneth J. Piner, Sr., said the illegal drug business was a “dog-eat-dog world.”

He called the money from selling drugs “dirty,” and he talked of how opiate addicts suffer from illness, pain and night sweats that cause them to take ice baths.

His drug abuse cost him his job, his wife and kids, and almost the life of a girlfriend, Aubrey Moore. Piner, a 52-year-old Altoona native, testified Tuesday in the courtroom of Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron.

Piner admitted he dealt cocaine. He said it was mostly to help support his addiction to pain pills.

His dealing eventually led to his arrest and to a trial that entered its third week on Tuesday morning, with the jury expected to get the case today.

The suspect faces more than 25 drug-related charges that he distributed cocaine from Jan. 1, 2011, through Nov. 4, 2011.

But despite all the bad things Piner had to say about illegal drugs, when it came down to identifying his drug sources, he refused, citing the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman attempted to show that Piner relied on an Altoona-Baltimore drug ring for his cocaine supply. The charge of conspiracy to distribute large amounts of cocaine was brought against Piner because of his alleged association with the ring that operated out of the Corner Bar and Grille at 1001 Eighth Ave.

Piner countered the prosecution accusation by saying he had cocaine suppliers in Altoona aside from the Baltimore group, and Gorman asked him to identify the dealers.

This is when he took the Fifth Amendment, refusing, he said, “to jeopardize other peoples’ livelihoods.”

When Piner refused to answer Gorman’s question, Milliron called the prosecution attorneys, Gorman and Blair County Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks, and defense attorney R. Thomas Forr Jr. to the bench to discuss how to proceed.

Milliron eventually ruled that Piner, under the law, was not permitted to cite the Fifth Amendment, but rather than order Piner to reveal his other drug sources the judge told Gorman to move to another question.

The judge said he wanted to avoid a Fifth Amendment controversy that would unnecessarily delay the trial which was already in its 10th day of testimony.

Piner repeatedly testified that he did not know or have dealings with the leaders of the Corner Bar drug organization – other than Jermaine “Shawn” Samuel, who coordinated street sales for the group.

He admitted knowing the cocaine was coming from Baltimore but said he didn’t know Damion “Benny” Floyd of Baltimore, the alleged leader of the group, Floyd’s girlfriend, Natasha Miller, who operated the organization with Samuel after Floyd, or Rodney “Rocco” Williams, the alleged source of cocaine in Baltimore.

The testimony ended just after noon Tuesday, and both sides gave their closing addresses.

Milliron said he will charge the jurors this morning and predicted deliberations would begin by 11 a.m.

Piner’s charges stem from six cocaine deliveries to confidential police informants that occurred in 2011, and Forr lashed out at the informants, saying they were longtime drug users and addicts themselves.

He repeatedly instructed the jury to make the prosecution prove its case against Piner beyond a reasonable doubt, and said that Piner remained innocent until the jurors said otherwise.

Forr said Piner never requested anybody from the organization to go to Baltimore to purchase drugs.

“Did he ask them to do anything?” he asked.

Gorman had his chance to address the jury, saying he told the them in the beginning that confidential informants are people with questionable pasts, or “damaged goods.”

He played a taped phone conversation between Piner and Moore, his girlfriend, that occurred shortly after police stopped Piner as he returned from visiting the young woman in Florida.

Police knew he was carrying more than 10 grams of cocaine, as well as marijuana, because of the phone taps, and the arrest had Piner on edge even though police let him go without charging him.

In that conversation, Piner explained the law to Moore, saying, “If you are with me and I do something, we are all responsible.”

Gorman said that showed Piner understood the law on conspiracy, and the conversation showed he knew what he was up against.

The prosecutor said Piner’s defense was to minimize his involvement in the drug organization in an effort to escape the responsibility for a cocaine shipment of 365 grams – which Gorman held up before the jury – confiscated by police on Nov. 4, 2011, when they arrested 14 members of the organization.

Piner may not have known Floyd or Miller but “he understands his role. … He understands his part [in the organization],” Gorman said.

“Hold him responsible, and tell him his business of dealing drugs is over, his business is closed and he is responsible for the cocaine that hit the streets of Altoona,” Gorman said.