HOLLIDAYSBURG - An Altoona man facing drug charges stemming from a police investigation called "Operation Last Call" has asked that the nonconsensual interception of his cellphone calls a year ago not be used against him during his trial.
Attorney Edward S. Blanarik of Centre County, representing Stephen M. Piner, 43, contends that narcotics investigators did not tell the full truth when they obtained permission for the interception of Piner's cellphone calls in late 2011.
Police, in asking for Superior Court approval of the phone taps, indicated that Stephen Piner and his brother, Kenneth, used fear to gain "street cred" and to scare anybody who may have leaned toward becoming a confidential informant for police.
According to state Attorney General Agent Albert Adams, the two brothers let people think they were linked to two long-ago murders, one involving an informant who was working with police.
Stephen and Kenneth Piner also threatened potential informants to the point that at least two individuals recanted their stories concerning the brothers' drug activities, Adams said.
As it turned out, the telephone taps led to the arrests of not only the Piner brothers but also to at least 12 other people suspected of being involved in transporting large amounts of cocaine from Baltimore to Altoona and distributing the drugs through the Corner Bar and Grill in Altoona.
Adams testified Thursday before Blair County Judge Elizabeth Doyle that it was not likely the extent of the drug organization, with its ties to Baltimore, would have ever been uncovered had it not been for the phone taps.
Blanarik is asking Doyle to suppress the information obtained through the phone taps, and thereby gut the charges against the people involved with the alleged Baltimore-to-Altoona drug ring.
He contends that the police, in asking the Superior Court to obtain permission to tap the phones, did not explain the circumstances around the two homicides - the fact that nobody has ever been convicted in those cases.
Blanarik asked Doyle to continue Thursday's hearing so he could prepare to cross-exam Adams, a request approved by the judge.
Prosecutors said they would like to bring Stephen Piner to trial in December.
Blanarik is also asking the judge to dismiss the charges because he contends police knew Piner was under investigation for the Operation Last Call charges when they arrested him and allowed him to plead to minor drug charges in 2010.
Altoona narcotics investigator Christopher Moser and Adams both denied that the 2010 case involving Stephen Piner was related to Operation Last Call.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.