HOLLIDAYSBURG - A Blair County jury has been selected for the first trial as part of Operation Last Call, a police investigation into a suspected Baltimore-to-Altoona drug ring.
Kenneth J. Piner Sr., 51, of Altoona will go on trial Sept. 5. The trial is expected to last until Sept. 21.
Piner is one of 14 defendants scheduled to stand trial.
Piner and a brother, Stephen, helped distribute illegal drugs that were obtained in Baltimore, according to a grand jury presentment. The drug operation is alleged to have operated out of the Corner Bar and Grill at 1001 Eighth Ave.
Blair County attorney R. Thomas Forr Jr. is representing Piner while the prosecution is being represented by Blair County Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks and Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman.
Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter will retire as a Blair County judge at the end of the year, and the Piner drug case will likely be his last trial after a 23-year career on the bench.
The Operation Last Call cases have been handled by Judges Timothy M. Sullivan and Elizabeth Doyle during the pretrial stage.
Carpenter said it wasn't until Friday that he was asked to preside over the Piner jury selection and trial. He told the jury that he was unfamiliar with the case but gave the prospective jurors a broad outline of the charges.
Police used informants to purchase drugs but as the investigation moved along, officers with the Blair County Drug Task Force obtained permission from the Pennsylvania Superior Court to tap into phone conversations involving the Piners and Jermaine Samuel, another defendant.
Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 5, 2011, police intercepted 17,719 calls. The grand jury presentment stated that 713 of Piner's telephone calls were "pertinent," or calls addressing drug activity.
In a petition filed Tuesday, Piner's attorney is arguing that several conversations that were recorded by police were not related to the drug charges faced by Piner.
Forr stated the calls contained "evidence of a highly prejudicial nature including purported threats of violence and/or evidence the defendant intended to liquidate assets."
The defense is asking the calls be excluded from the trial.
Another case stemming from Operation Last Call ended Monday with a guilty plea.
Danny Tallie, 42, of Altoona pleaded guilty to charges of possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy and criminal use of a communications facility.
Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva sentenced him to four to 12 years in state prison.
Participating in a corrupt organization and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Tallie was disappointed that he is not eligible for a prison program called the Recidivism Risk Reduction Initiative, according to the plea agreement that was presented to the judge by his attorney, Mark Zearfaus, and Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery.
Under the program, Tallie could have received a substantial reduction in his minimum sentence.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.