HOLLIDAYSBURG - A deputy attorney general told a Blair County jury on Monday that Kenneth J. Piner and his brother were major distributors for Baltimore-based cocaine dealers and that they helped in "tearing down the Altoona community."
"They are brothers and parasites who sucked the life blood out of the community," said Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman as he made an opening address in the Piner's drug trial, which is expected to last three weeks. Piner's brother will be tried later.
Piner is charged with multiple offenses in what police called Operation Last Call, the investigation into a drug ring that operated out of the Corner Bar and Grille, 1001 Eighth Ave.
Piner, 52, has persistently stated that while he dealt in small amounts of cocaine, like $50 and $100 bags, he was not part of any organization or drug ring that distributed thousands of grams of cocaine.
Gorman said Piner was a major street dealer who willingly did the bidding of Damion Floyd and Rodney Williams, who also are facing multiple charges in the Operation Last Call case.
While Gorman said Piner might not have known the specifics of how much cocaine was being transported to Altoona from Baltimore or the amount of money that was involved, he was recorded telling another individual that he knew the origin of the cocaine, knew it was being distributed out of the Corner Bar and said it was "major weight," meaning, Gorman said, that the organization was dealing in kilos and not grams.
This makes Piner a co-conspirator in the distribution of cocaine and makes him as guilty as the leaders of the ring, Gorman said.
He said the Piner brothers were aware that police were investigating the group, and Gorman said that in a phone call that Piner boasted he wouldn't get caught.
Piner allegedly told a person how easy it was to make money from drugs in the city.
"This stuff sells itself," Piner stated on the tape.
Police began investigating the group after confidential informants made several buys from the Piners. That led to court-authorized wiretaps, which led authorities to the Corner Bar and the Baltimore dealers.
On Nov. 4, 2011, police brought down the organization after following a member of the drug ring to Baltimore where another half kilo of cocaine had been purchased for distribution in Altoona.
Michael Lattieri, a drug addict, testified Monday about drug buys he made on Nov. 30, 2010, and Jan. 14, 2011, from Piner.
Lattieri - who is serving a 10-to-20 year sentence for 16 burglaries, six of which he said he pleaded guilty to even though he didn't commit them - testified Monday he met Piner on Nov. 30. 2010, at the apartment of Piner's sister when Piner offered to sell him a $50 bag of cocaine.
He testified he also gave Piner and his brother electronic equipment Lattieri stole from lawyers' offices in 2010 and early 2011. The Piners gave him cocaine in return.
He said he purchased $50 in cocaine on Jan. 4, 2011, from Kenneth Piner while parked at the rear of the now-closed Panda Bar in downtown Altoona.
Gorman said that Piner made anywhere from $1,800 to $4,000 on every ounce of cocaine he sold.
Piner's attorney R. Thomas Forr did not present an opening statement Monday but said he would do so at the conclusion of the prosecution's case.
On Friday, Forr filed several motions to dismiss the charges against Kenneth Piner, including a presentment by a grand jury, and to disallow evidence collected by police as the result of several search warrants.
Milliron said his law clerk was researching the law to determine if he had jurisdiction to hear Forr's complaints about the grand jury, noting they probably should be reviewed by the grand jury's supervising judge.
He also said he would be issuing orders concerning Forr's requests to exclude evidence.
Although the judge made no written decision concerning the Forr petitions, he did not delay the Piner trial.