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Judge: Former city man’s maximum sentences illegal

County given 120 days to resentence Bellon

A federal judge has given Blair County 120 days to resentence a former Altoona man who is serving a 31-year minimum sentence as the alleged leader of a drug organization that distributed large amounts of cocaine locally 20 years ago.

Charles A. Bellon, 40, has been in the State Correctional Institution at Benner in Centre County for well over a decade.

He has repeatedly challenged his conviction as the leader of the drug organization and has contended that his constitutional right to a fair trial was violated because the prosecution reinstated charges that had once been dismissed.

His appeals to the Pennsylvania Superior and Supreme courts and a petition to the U.S. District Court have failed to bring Bellon any relief — until recently.

In reviewing a federal petition filed in 2015, a U.S. magistrate judge in Johnstown determined that Bellon’s sentences on 10 of his charges were illegal.

Those counts each involved charges of possession with intent to deliver cocaine in which Bellon was sentenced to seven to 14 years.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto, while recommending dismissal of the core issues raised by Bellon’s Philadelphia attorney, Todd M. Mosser, found that the 14-year maximum sentence on each of the possession counts was excessive.

The maximum for each charge, according to state law, is 10 years, Pesto ruled.

He recommended to U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson that Blair County be ordered to resentence Bellon.

Gibson on Monday dismissed Bellon’s challenge to his convictions but gave the Blair County Court 120 days to reduce Bellon’s sentence on the possession with intent to deliver charges to a maximum of 10 years.

If Blair County does not resentence Bellon, the case will be returned to the federal court for further action. The defense already is suggesting Bellon should be released from confinement.

When it comes to resentencing of Bellon, Gibson noted the specifics will be up to the Blair County judge assigned.

Pesto, in addressing Pennsylvania law, pointed out that the general rule is that a minimum sentence should not be greater than half the maximum sentence.

To the defense, this means Bellon’s minimum sentence would have to be reduced to at least five years.

The prosecution maintains that a seven- to 10-year sentence still could be imposed.

Another possibility raised by the defense was that the original sentences be vacated in favor of a whole new sentencing scheme.

“The guiding principle is that federal courts should grant the relief that requires the least intervention into the state criminal process,” Pesto stated in his recommendation to Gibson.

Gibson agreed, stating in his order, “This does not constrain (Bellon) from seeking or the Court of Common Pleas from making any other changes to its judgment of sentence.”

A Philadelphia native, Bellon was charged with operating a multi-county cocaine ring while living in Altoona from 1999 through 2002.

He was convicted by a jury in 2006 of 11 counts of possession with intent to deliver, two counts of operating a corrupt organization and one count each of conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility and dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity.

His sentence of 31 to 62 years was imposed by Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter, who now serves as a senior judge.

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