Trial date set for accused dealers

JOHNSTOWN – Jury selection for the trial of George M. Lowmaster, the alleged mastermind behind a northern Cambria County drug organization, will begin on Oct. 28, according to an order issued this week by U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown.

Gibson’s order came after a pretrial status conference Monday afternoon in which he met with attorneys for George “Beaver” Lowmaster, 43, and his parents, Gerald “Jerry” Lowmaster, 66, and Marguerite “Dolly” Lowmaster, 66, all of Carrolltown.

Federal, state and local narcotics investigators broke up the alleged drug ring 27 months ago after a federal grand jury indicted 25 suspects.

The suspects were charged with helping George operate his ring and with helping him launder the money, which investigators said totaled millions of dollars over the years.

At the time, the supervisor of the Cambria County Drug Task Force, Kevin Price, said the investigation into the Lowmaster group was among the largest ever carried out in the area.

Police used phone taps and other methods in the investigation.

Gibson called a pretrial meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the case with defense attorneys Sally A. Frick of Pittsburgh, representing George Lowmaster, Russell Heiple of Johnstown, representing Gerald Lowmaster, and Steven C. Townsend of Pittsburgh, representing Dolly Lowmaster, and Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Valkovci, who has been prosecuting the case.

The attorneys concluded they were prepared for trial and Valkovci said the case should take three or four weeks. He has listed 45 witnesses who he intends to call.

Because of the length of the trial, Judge Gibson moved the case up a week, from the first week of November to Oct. 28.

All three defense attorneys agreed that plea agreements were being discussed, but as of Wednesday, the only announced “change of plea” came from Dolly Lowmaster.

George and Gerald were still listed for trial on the 28th.

The change of plea for Dolly Lowmaster will be heard at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 9.

According to the judge’s summary of the pretrial status conference, George Lowmaster had a forfeiture issue that had to be resolved before he would consider changing his plea and Gerald Lowmaster has a “few remaining issues” to discuss before he agreed to change his plea.

The defense attorneys attacked the use of the wiretaps, but Judge Gibson in August ruled the many recorded conversations between members of the organization could be used in court.

George Lowmaster faces life behind bars if convicted on 11 counts that included conspiracy to distribute 100 or more kilograms of marijuana, less than 500 grams of cocaine, and oxycodone and other drugs.

George’s parents also face long sentences if convicted on all counts.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.