Task force nabs 22 alleged dealers

The Blair County Drug Task Force, along with drug agents with the state Attorney General’s Office, rounded up 22 people suspected drug dealers Friday, including the New York man police say shot and killed a rival inside a Sixth Avenue night club Halloween night.

Hugo Baez, 20, now a resident of the Blair County Prison as he awaits a murder trial for the Oct. 31 killing of Willie Solomon, 22, appeared before Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller Friday for arraignment on new charges stemming from two alleged crack cocaine sales in October.

Police allege Baez sold $100 worth of crack to a police informant Oct. 10 and Oct. 18 in the area of 21st Street and Fifth Avenue.

While Baez’s charges dealt with cocaine, most suspects charged Friday are accused of selling heroin.

Suspects such as Hope L. Koch, 41, of 1224 13th Ave., said she takes methadone when she appeared before Miller in handcuffs about 11 a.m. for allegedly selling heroin to an informant on Jan. 9.

The unemployed Koch told the judge she and her two children, 10 and 12, live with her parents; her only income is her son’s disability check.

Koch said she was staying at her boyfriend’s house when she learned of the warrant for her arrest early Friday morning, so she went straight home. Koch added her mother allows her to go out from time to time and watches her kids for her, but Miller appeared unimpressed when police noted that her children were alone when they arrived at her home before Koch.

“You should have been there,” Miller said.

“I know, I know, I know,” Koch said.

“You need to get some responsibility for your children,” Miller said. “You’re an adult; you’re not a child anymore. You have responsibilities. You shouldn’t have been out saying, ‘I thought my mom was watching them.’ You should have been there.”

When Monica Sylvester Kemp, 29, of 303 60th St., Apt. B, who is accused of selling bath salts and heroin, tried to get unsecured bail because her 2-year-old son has a heart condition, Miller said he would consider unsecured bail until he learned Kemp might be exaggerating the boy’s health condition to get leniency.

“I have bad judgment with people coming in and out of my house,” said Kemp, who was already free on bail awaiting a preliminary hearing on a robbery charge.

Miller set bail at $32,500 cash, telling Kemp, “You made these decisions.”

With more than half the suspects already in jail on other charges, mostly drug related, Friday’s roundup was a cleanup operation of street-level dealers, noted Anthony Sassano, regional director with the Attorney General’s Office’s Bureau of Narcotics Investigation. Most of those suspects were dealing in heroin.

Sassano pointed out heroin’s rise as the drug of choice isn’t just in Blair County, but across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.

“This is a really concerning upswing in heroin,” Sassano said. “The biggest concern is it’s killing people.”

By the end of the day, only four suspects remained at large. The rest were remanded to Blair County Prison with preliminary hearings slated for March 24 at Central Court before Judge Miller.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.