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Court upholds drug sentence

In an opinion Thursday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court let stand the conviction and lengthy prison sentence imposed on the purported leader of a heroin distribution ring.

Luis Bernal, 42, who is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township, Centre County, was sentenced by Huntingdon County Senior Judge Stewart L. Kurtz to 16 to 32 years behind bars after a jury convicted him on charges of possession with intent to deliver, participating in a corrupt organization, conspiracy, criminal use of a communication facility and dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities.

Bernal’s girlfriend, Jacquita Kiernan, who moved from New York City with Bernal in 2012, pleaded guilty for her role in the organization.

Kiernan was sentenced in 2014 by Kurtz to serve 30 to 60 months behind bars.

Although Bernal gave police two statements concerning his involvement in the heroin drug ring, he appealed his case to the Superior Court after his trial, and, more recently, filed an appeal under Pennsylvania’s Post Conviction Relief Act, in which he argued his trial attorney was ineffective.

He also complained that the prosecution exaggerated his role in the ring.

A Superior Court panel that included Judges Mary Jane Bowes, Judith F. Olson and Megan King reviewed Bernal’s appeal and affirmed his conviction and sentence.

According to the appeals court summary, Bernal and his girlfriend moved to Huntingdon eight years ago and lived with Kiernan’s relatives for a time.

They eventually moved to Snyder’s Run Road in Huntingdon and almost immediately began a small heroin distribution operation that included the sale of two bundles of heroin every couple of days. A bundle included 10 bags of between 0.01 to 0.04 grams of heroin.

Using suppliers in New York, Bernal was able to quickly expand his operation.

After 18 months, he and other dealers were selling 90 bundles every two weeks.

According to an agent from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, Bernal “conservatively” grossed more than $180,000 over 18 months.

His growing business attracted attention when Huntingdon Borough police began receiving reports that Bernal and his girlfriend “were bringing large quantities of heroin into the area for distribution,” according to the Superior Court opinion.

Confidential informants were included among the customers, and law enforcement, led by Agent Mark Sinisi, arrested Bernal on April 28, 2014.

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