Prosecutors allowed to use wire taps in upcoming Lowmaster trial

JOHNSTOWN – Prosecutors will be permitted to present evidence collected through court-ordered wiretaps on telephones used by alleged drug dealer George Lowmaster during his upcoming trial, according to a decision this week by U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson.

Gibson issued a 40-page opinion dealing with pretrial questions raised by the 43-year-old Lowmaster, known as “Beaver,” his father, Gerald “Jerry” Lowmaster, 66, and his mother, Marguerite “Dolly” Lowmaster, 66, all of Carrolltown.

The decision by Gibson clears the way for the Lowmasters to go on trial in U.S. District Court in Johnstown beginning Nov. 4.

In pretrial petitions filed by Pittsburgh attorney Sally A. Frick and Johnstown attorney Arthur T. McQuillan, George Lowmaster asked the judge to order the prosecution to give the defense statements of any plea agreements or preferred treatment that has been offered to witnesses against him in his trial.

Gibson ruled that the government is required to provide that type of information to the defense, but he stated the defense is not entitled to presentence investigations prepared on behalf of witnesses who may have been convicted of prior crimes. The judge said presentence investigations are confidential court documents. He said the defense argument to turn over presentence investigations that delve into the backgrounds of potential witnesses was “unpersuasive.”

In his ruling, the judge also found that the FBI presented evidence of probable cause that led to the use of wiretaps on two telephones used by George Lowmaster and the execution of search warrants at George Lowmaster’s home, 106 Himmel St., his parents’ home, 387 Main St., and Jerry’s Tavern, 383 N. Main St., all in Carrolltown.

The major issue before the judge was the legality of the wiretaps that were used in the final phase of the 2010-11 investigation that led to arrests, not only of the Lowmasters, but many others connected with the alleged George Lowmaster drug organization and attempts to launder the money reportedly amassed by the Carrolltown-based group. The defense contended the FBI, state and local police who investigated the group did not establish probable cause when requesting court-approved wiretaps.

The defense also claimed the information in the affidavits used to get court approval was “stale,” meaning it was old information, and it contended that it

wasn’t shown that wiretaps were a “necessity” in furthering the investigation.

A wiretap is supposed to be the last resort of law enforcement when investigating a crime, to be used only when evidence cannot be garnered through the use of traditional methods such as garbage pulls, informants, surveillance and the use of the pen register to determine who, for instance, George Lowmaster was calling on his two phones.

According to Gibson, the request to place a wire on one “target phone” was filed March 15, 2011. Authorization to tap a second “target phone” came on April 11, 2011.

Arrests followed in June, and federal indictments were handed down on Aug. 16, 2011. George Lowmaster faces 11 charges, including conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, conspiracy to possess and distribute 1,000 or more marijuana plants, distribution of less than 500 grams of cocaine, money laundering and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone, and money laundering. Gerald Lowmaster is charged with conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and money laundering, and Marguerite Lowmaster faces one count of conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. The judge pointed out the affidavit to use phone taps listed drug buys from George Lowmaster as long ago as 2008, and police presented information indicating he sold a variety of drugs.

The judge said the fact that the Lowmaster enterprise was described as an “ongoing drug trafficking conspiracy” by police indicated the information was not “stale.”