Charges against a Penn State Altoona student who police say had nearly 10 pounds of marijuana in his Nittany Pointe apartment March 23 are headed to court.
"I opened up the book bag and saw bundles of cash," Sgt. Terry Walter told Magisterial District Judge Steven Jackson during a preliminary hearing Thursday for 20-year-old Endri Zenelaj, who was arrested March 26 on felony and misdemeanor drug charges after a search of his bedroom allegedly turned up 9 pounds of pot and $7,665 in cash.
Walter testified that as he was finding the bag holding the cash, another officer pulled out a suitcase stashed in Zenelaj's bedroom and said, "Jackpot."
Inside, Walter said, were pounds of pot in sealed bags. Another half-pound of marijuana was found under Zenelaj's bed, the officer said. Police said they also recovered a digital scale.
Officer Clinton Vazquez told the court how a fire alarm that led police to Zenelaj. Logan Township police routinely accompany the fire department to Nittany Pointe to clear buildings in case students are still inside.
The alarm came in the middle of the night, and firefighters went to each apartment, looking for students who were still inside, Vazquez said.
"We go assist the fire department in making sure everyone is out of the building, in case someone's under the influence, passed out," Vazquez said. "We don't want them burning up inside."
It was firefighters who alerted officers to a bong sitting out in the open in one of the apartments, and after talking to the resident at about 3:30 a.m., police recovered about 2 ounces of pot and were directed to Zenelaj's apartment as the source, Vazquez testified.
Two of Zenelaj's roommates, Vazquez testified, told officers they suspected he was selling marijuana, and a third roommate said he had "firsthand knowledge" Zenelaj was dealing. A bong was also sitting on the kitchen counter when police arrived at the apartment and were let in by the roommates, Vazquez said. The roommates allowed police to search the common areas of the apartment and their rooms, but officers sought and obtained a search warrant for Zenelaj's room. Vazquez testified that when one of the roommates reached Zenelaj by phone that morning, he told them he wasn't returning to the apartment.
Zenelaj's attorney, Sean McGraw of State College, attempted to glean as much information from both officers as possible as to how they obtained their tips and ultimately how they conducted the search of Zenelaj's bedroom.
McGraw pressed the officers about why they sought a warrant for Vazquez's room but not the rest of the apartment, a question Assistant District Attorney Russell Montgomery objected to because he said it went beyond the purpose of the hearing.
"Let's move on," Jackson said, agreeing with Montgomery.
McGraw also tried to find out whether other students who officers testified had either paraphernalia or marijuana and then led police to Vazquez would also face charges. Vazquez told the court the investigation was still open, so he couldn't say whether the fellow students who fingered Vazquez as a drug dealer also faced arrest.
McGraw also tried to chip away at the assertion the drugs and money belonged to his client.
"Did you ever ask anybody whose [book bag] that was? Did you ever ask anybody whose suitcase that was?" McGraw said.
"No, it was in the defendant's bedroom," Walter answered.
Jackson found prosecutors had shown enough evidence to send the case to Blair County Court. Zenelaj remains free on $50,000 cash bond.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.