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'Lutzo' Ameris has long history of run-ins with law enforcement

| Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Lower Burrell man who police say drove a fugitive to the restaurant where a police officer was shot to death is facing gun charges for the second time in 14 years.

James Anthony "Lutzo" Ameris III, 52, of Fairview Drive is charged with owning two pistols, which is prohibited since he was convicted in Allegheny County of selling drugs in 2003.

Police allege Ameris is the last-known owner of the .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol used by fugitive Charles "Charlie" Post, 33, of Lower Burrell to kill Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki on Oct. 12.

Authorities said Ameris denied owning that gun, but told a Westmoreland County detective and an agent from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that he owned another pistol that he sold last summer.

While investigating the origin of the gun used to kill Kotecki, police learned Ameris sold a SWD Cobray M-11 9 mm pistol in 2011 to a New Kensington man for $200, according to court documents. That man told police he sold the gun later the same day for $350 to another person.

Westmoreland County Detective Terry Kuhns earlier this month utilized a criminal informant to recover the 9 mm pistol.

Kuhns charged Ameris with illegal possession and illegal sale of a firearm in relationship to the 9 mm pistol and the same charges for the .40-caliber pistol.

District Judge Jason Buczak on Friday arraigned Ameris and released him on $25,000 bond. Buczak scheduled a preliminary hearing for April 3 before District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec, but that hearing is expected to be postponed.

Ameris' attorney, Duke George, pushed for a low bond because he said his client does not have a history of running from police. George noted Ameris turned himself in to police yesterday morning and self-reported to prison in a previous case.

"He's lived in this area all of his life and he's never absconded," George said.

George and Ameris did not comment to a reporter after the hearing.

Not Ameris' first gun charges

Yesterday isn't the first time Ameris faced a gun violation.

In February 1998, Ameris was charged with firing a revolver into cars at the Jerome Olds-Cadillac lot between the 800 blocks of Fourth and Fifth avenues in New Kensington.

Police said he was angry the dealership had repossessed his sport utility vehicle.

According to court records, Ameris ultimately pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and violating city ordinances. He initially was charged with illegally firing a gun, but that charge was dropped.

He was sentenced to one year of probation, ordered to pay a fine and restitution, and to have a mental evaluation.

In 2008, state police charged him with having drug paraphernalia, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and ignoring a stop sign.

The following year, he pleaded guilty to the first charge and the other two charges were dropped. He was ordered to pay a fine and court costs.

Records show that in 2003, the state attorney general's drug strike force charged Ameris with selling drugs.

In that case, he was sentenced to serve a sentence of almost one to two years in the Allegheny County Jail. It was this case that prohibits him from owning a gun.

In June 2002, Ameris was fined and sentenced by a federal judge to five months in prison and three years of probation for not reporting or paying taxes on gambling money.

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