HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona mother of three children entered guilty pleas Monday to drug charges that will keep her behind bars for five to 10 years and on probation for a decade after her prison sentence has been completed.
Tracey Piner, 43, who lived at Evergreen Manors when she was arrested as part of Operation Last Call, appeared for jury selection but decided to instead enter guilty pleas to possession with intent to deliver, conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility.
Piner struggled with the decision to enter guilty pleas, but as her attorney, Robert Lape, pointed out, she was facing a lengthy prison term if she were convicted of all the charges against her.
Her guilty plea colloquy, which she prepared prior to entering her pleas before Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle, stated that she could have received 47 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted of all offenses.
Piner was permitted to speak to her mother, and she shed tears, before accepting the plea agreement presented to Doyle by Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman.
Charges of participation in a corrupt organization and dealing in unlawful proceeds, plus other drug offenses were dismissed.
Because court officials were concerned that prospective jurors would see Piner standing before Doyle, cardboard was placed over the small window of the courtroom door.
The fear was that if some jurors saw her before the judge, an impartial jury could not be selected - if she eventually decided not to enter the guilty pleas.
Piner is one of three Operation Last Call defendants to enter guilty pleas.
Danny Tallie of Altoona was recently sentenced to a four- to eight-year prison term. Tracey Piner's brother, Kenneth, also entered pleas and will serve 19 to 38 years in prison.
The trio sentenced were not considered leaders of the drug ring in which large amounts of cocaine were allegedly transported from Baltimore to Altoona and packaged for sale, then distributed throughout the city, authorities said.
Suspected major figures in the case, such as Baltimore native Damion Floyd, are challenging the charges against them.
Drug investigators said they were able to track the distribution of cocaine in Altoona by tapping the phones of alleged dealers.
The statewide grand jury presentment that led to charges indicated that Tracey Piner, Tallie and others "were some of the conduits through which others bought cocaine, including the confidential informants utilized by law enforcement."
Tracey Piner will receive credit for time served but she is not eligible for a state program called the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive, which reduces the time behind bars.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.