Alleged dealers contest charges

Defendants place blame on each other, seek separate trials

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Two York men accused of major roles in an alleged heroin pipeline between New York, York and Altoona are pointing toward each other in their defense of drug-trafficking charges filed in Blair County Court.

Lawrence M. Francis, 40, and Wayne A. Davis, 37, identified almost a year ago in a grand jury presentment detailing a $5 million heroin-selling business operating in 2015 and 2016, were in court Friday with pre-trial motions that Judge Wade Kagarise will review in preparation for trial.

Both are accused of felony conspiracy, drug delivery, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities and participation in a corrupt organization.

Francis maintains he is wrongly accused because he was not in Blair County on the dates of three alleged heroin sales involving Davis. Francis was only charged, defense attorney Mark Zearfaus maintains, because of his association with Davis.

Davis, meanwhile, has advised the court that the criminal charges filed against him are based on conjecture and speculation by people who saw him in the “mere presence” of Francis.

In light of the 2,500-plus pages detailing the investigation into Francis’ alleged criminal enterprise, defense attorney Thomas Farrell has asked that Davis be tried separately. Farrell also contends that the charges against Davis are based on vague and unsubstantiated statements.

Kagarise set no timetable for addressing the legal issues, which include a motion to suppress information that state police collected against Francis by placing a tracking device on his vehicle while it was in York County. Police secured a warrant for use of the tracking device, but the warrant, Zearfaus said, was “nothing more than a fishing expedition to try to get evidence” against Francis.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman on Friday asked Kagarise to deny Davis’ request for a separate trial.

Gorman and Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks, in support of the charges and in support of joint trial, provided Kagarise with a copy of grand jury presentment and related details prepared by Altoona police.

A transcript of Francis’ preliminary hearing, held last year before Magisterial District Judge Fred Miller, also is expected to be submitted.

Meanwhile, a third defendant, Terron L. Miller of Altoona, who at one time was to be tried with Francis and Davis, has gone to the state Superior Court to challenge the county’s legal proceedings addressing his offenses.

In February, Kagarise rejected Miller’s claim of a double-jeopardy rights violations. Miller, in November 2016, entered guilty pleas to drug-trafficking charges in exchange for a five-to-15-year sentence. At that time, Miller acknowledged that additional charges were forthcoming.

While the later charges were based on the same drug-selling activity as the earlier charges, Kagarise rejected the double-jeopardy claim. Instead, the judge concluded that the later charges were valid because they reflected a “course of conduct” and were “broader in scope” than the earlier charges.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.