Former ring leader loses bid for new trial

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Charles Bellon, the leader of a drug organization that distributed cocaine in Blair and Cambria counties more than a decade ago, has lost his latest bid for a new trial.

Blair County Senior Judge Hiram A. Carpenter has rejected Bellon’s contention that this sentence of 31-62 years in prison was excessive and said that many of Bellon’s complaints about the Blair County criminal justice system lacked merit.

“Simply put, no verdict slip could do justice to the amount of criminal activity which originated through this defendant,” Carpenter stated as he reiterated the reasons why Bellon was sentenced to prison for such a long time.

“Punishment was a critical factor,” said Carpenter, explaining his sentence.

Bellon, who is serving his time at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township in Centre County, received a break because he was so young when he dealt drugs in Blair County, Carpenter pointed out in a 56-page opinion released on Wednesday.

Testimony in the case showed that Bellon as an 18 year old from Philadelphia was looking for a city where he could start a drug organization.

He received start-up money of $2,000 from Norman Ransom, who knew Bellon’s family, the testimony showed.

Ransom stated during Bellon’s 2006 trial, “I was the money.”

Bellon, as the testimony showed, even gave away samples of his initial drug stash to get his business up and running, and it didn’t take long before it was thriving.

Carpenter in several places in his opinion rejecting Bellon’s argument for a new trial said giving the defendant 30 years behind bars – one day in jail for every crime attributed to him – would not cover the number of his crimes.

That meant, in the judge’s mind, Bellon was responsible for more than 10,000 crimes.

In referring to his original sentence colloquy, the judge told Bellon, “Frankly, what stood in your favor in my mind was largely your age.” He said this in explanation why Bellon, now 34, didn’t receive even more jail time.

Bellon has argued that his sentence was excessive, particularly in comparison to Ransom, who received only 7 to 15 years. And Bellon complained that another man who testified against him, Charles Haralson, had an undisclosed deal for a light sentence if he testified in the Bellon trial.

Carpenter agreed that Haralson was possibly under the impression investigators would speak in his favor when he was sentenced, which occurred, but he explained Haralson’s testimony only confirmed what many other witnesses told the jury, which was that Bellon was a fully involved leader of the organization.

The judge said Bellon’s involvement in the organization was many times greater than that of Ransom or the many others arrested in the case.

Bellon, according to the charges, operated in the Altoona area from 1997 until he was charged on May 8, 2002.

He agreed to accept a plea agreement of 20 to 32 years in prison but later changed his mind and was permitted by the Pennsylvania Superior Court to withdraw his plea and go to trial.

On Aug. 7, 2006, he was convicted of 12 counts of possession with intent to deliver crack cocaine, two counts of corrupt organizations, and one count each of conspiracy, illegal use of a communication facility and dealing in unlawful proceeds.

Bellon, through Altoona attorney Steven P. Passarello, argued that charges in 1997 were beyond the statute of limitations, a point which Carpenter rejected.

One of Bellon’s major points was that he when he entered a guilty plea, most of the charges against him were dismissed. He has repeatedly said it was unfair and vindictive to reinstate those charges for his trial.

Carpenter said the Superior Court has already ruled that charges dismissed as the result of a plea agreement can be reinstated if the case is remanded for trial.

Passarello has indicated that an appeal will be taken to the Superior Court contesting Carpenter’s many rulings.

In the meantime, Bellon became impatient waiting for a ruling on his case from Carpenter, the post conviction hearing occurring in August a year ago, and he has filed a petition with the U.S. District Court in Johnstown complaining about the “inordinate delay” in the Blair County court.