HOLLIDAYSBURG - A defense attorney for a Baltimore man told a Blair County jury Monday morning that his client was the source of almost a half-kilogram of cocaine being transported to Altoona in November 2011.
"He is guilty," attorney Philip M. Masorti said as he talked about Rodney "Rocco" Williams, 37, who was arrested by Baltimore police on Nov. 4, 2011, not long after the women bringing the cocaine to Altoona were arrested on Interstate 99 near the Queen exit in Blair County.
Police that night also raided the Corner Bar and Grille, 1001 Eighth Ave., bringing a drug investigation that had been under way for the better part of 2010 and 2011 to a conclusion.
Williams is accused of being the Baltimore link to a major cocaine dealer known as KOB, who has yet to be identified.
On Nov. 4, 2011, investigators knew that Shonda Hicks, an Altoona woman connected to the Corner Bar, was scheduled to go to Baltimore to pick up cocaine because they had court-ordered wiretaps on cellphones being used by the leaders of the Blair County drug ring.
They followed Hicks to Baltimore the evening of Nov. 3.
Working with Baltimore narcotics officers, Hicks was observed as she went into Williams' home then came out with what turned out to be 368 grams of cocaine carried in a shoe bag, which was hidden inside a large tote bag.
Fourteen suspects were arrested that night, and since January, the trials of the suspected drug ring leaders have been under way in Judge Daniel J. Milliron's courtroom.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Dave Gorman opened the case for the prosecution Monday morning telling the jury that Williams was a "major link" in the drug ring that operated out of the Corner Bar.
Williams is facing charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine, participation in a corrupt organization, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and dealing in unlawful proceeds.
Gorman said Williams became a key part of the organization in July 2011, when the alleged ring leader, Damion "Benny" Floyd, went to prison for possession of cocaine that was discovered in 2010 as part of a routine traffic stop.
Gorman said Floyd wanted to continue to operate his drug organization from his state prison cell and put in place a management team that included Jermaine "Shawn" Samuel, Natasha Miller, Williams and others.
Masorti admitted the evidence was "overwhelming" that his client was the source of the cocaine being carried back to Altoona by Hicks and a friend.
Masorti complimented the officers of the West Drug Task Force, saying they did "great work."
He admitted that Williams was a close friend of Floyd's, with both growing up in the 1970s in a Baltimore housing project that Masorti called a "jungle."
But Williams contended he "was not in the organization," Masorti said.
The Baltimore man might have been a supplier on Nov. 4, but he was not a part of the Corner Bar drug ring, he said.
The defense is challenging the prosecution's contention that Williams was responsible for the actions of the drug organization when the cocaine reached Altoona.
Williams had nothing to do with using cutting agents to expand the pure cocaine from 368 grams to a kilo or more, which then was sold to mid-level dealers, Masorti said.
Masorti said that while Williams was the supplier, it was Hicks who over a several month period brought the cocaine to Altoona. Masorti called her a "queenpin."
The defense, he said, is denying Williams was part of a corrupt organization, that he conspired with members of the Corner Bar ring to distribute cocaine in Altoona and that he dealt in unlawful proceeds.
He concluded his opening statement, telling the jury, "I'm going to zealously defend my man."