Magistrate calls for dealer’s resentencing

The alleged leader of a drug organization that peddled large amounts of cocaine in Blair, Huntingdon and Cambria counties is entitled to be resentenced on 10 of the charges for which he was convicted because the maximums on the sentences imposed by a Blair County judge were illegal, according to a recommendation by a federal magistrate judge in Johnstown.

Charles Bellon, 40, of Altoona, was convicted of operating a drug organization from 1999 to 2001.

Bellon’s case is complex and has been on appeal almost since the time of his arrest in the early 2000s.

He initially was charged with 17 offenses including multiple counts of possession with intent to deliver and two counts of participating in a corrupt organization, but many of these counts were dismissed when Bellon agreed to entered pleas to eight of the counts in 2002.

Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva sentenced Bellon to 20 to 32 years in prison.

After sentencing, Bellon fought to withdraw his pleas, and in 2004 the Pennsylvania Superior Court granted him permission.

Bellon, out of prison on bail, then went before a jury and on Aug. 7, 2006, he was found guilty of 11 counts of possession with intent to deliver, two counts of participating in a corrupt organization, and one count each of conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activity.

Judge Hiram A. Carpenter sentenced him to 31 to 62 years in prison.

Bellon is serving the sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Benner.

Since his conviction, Bellon has launched multiple appeals, all of which have been rejected by the Pennsylvania appeals courts.

In 2015 he took his case to the U.S. District Court in Johnstown.

The review of Bellon’s appeal was referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith A. Pesto who, in a 17-page opinion last Friday, rejected Bellon’s arguments that would have vacated his convictions and lengthy sentence.

Pesto, however, found that the maximum sentences on 10 of the charges involving possession with intent to deliver were illegal.

The maximum sentence for the possession charge was 10 years. Bellon was sentenced to seven to 14 years on each count.

Pesto stated, “The prejudice to (Bellon) as a result of his illegal sentence is obvious.”

He pointed out that both the prosecution and Bellon’s defense attorney, Todd M. Mosser of Philadelphia, agreed the 14-year maximum was illegal.

The magistrate judge suggested that within 120 days Blair County vacate the illegal sentences and impose new sentences.

If the Blair County Court does not vacate Bellon’s sentence, he recommended a federal writ be issued “to release (Bellon) from the judgment of sentence.”

Addressing another issue, the defense in Bellon’s case contended that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated when, after he withdrew his initial guilty pleas, the prosecution was permitted to reinstate for trial the many charges that were dismissed.

Pesto disposed of that argument by quoting from the Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion that found Bellon’s argument on that point “perplexing.”

It reasoned: “A defendant could plea guilty in exchange for the commonwealth withdrawing certain charges, rescind his guilty plea and then prevent the commonwealth from reinstituting the charges that had been withdraw. … This position is untenable.

“Once the defendant withdraws the agreement, the parties stand in the same position as they did before its entry,” the Superior Court stated.

Bellon’s defense also argued that the prosecution had withheld the details of a plea agreement it made with one of its star witnesses against Bellon — a member of the organization who testified for the state — for a reduced sentence.

This claim was rejected by Pesto who pointed out the issue was not raised during the initial appeal and therefore was waived.

The defense and prosecution have 14 days to challenge Pesto’s rulings and then the case will go to U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson for a final decision.