Several narcotics suspects face trials

| Wednesday, July 31, 2002

More than a dozen suspects Tuesday were ordered to stand trial on charges of being involved in a cocaine trafficking ring that police say stretched from Duquesne to Verona and into New Kensington, Westmoreland County.

A nine-month investigation beginning in July 2001 culminated with court-authorized wiretaps that monitored phone calls of the primary suspects from March 8 to April 29, leading to 23 arrests in mid-May. Preliminary hearings for many suspects were conducted yesterday in the courtroom of Penn Hills District Justice Leonard Hromyak. Other cases were continued.

About 9 kilograms of cocaine and $250,000 in cash have been seized. Police said they found 3.5 kilograms of cocaine April 29 inside a dryer, along with nearly $94,000 in a safe; stolen shotguns; and crack cocaine and a scale on the kitchen counter at the Duquesne home of Rebekah Lynn Crux, 32.

She and boyfriend Steven Scales, 33, who has addresses in Tarentum and Monroeville, were held for court yesterday after preliminary hearings, as were Bruno Cuzzocrea, 32, of Penn Hills, who operated Rosario's Cafe and Pizzeria in New Kensington, and his brother, Giovanni Cuzzocrea, 28, of Pittsburgh.

Some counts of possession of cocaine and possession with intent to deliver were dismissed against Scales and the Cuzzocreas. But they were held on other counts of the same charges, as well as criminal conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility. Charges of receiving stolen property also were dismissed against Scales.

Bruno Cuzzocrea's ex-wife, Yvonne Marie Battiste, of Oakmont and a former part-time Verona police officer, already has been held for court after waiving her preliminary hearing on charges of criminal use of a communication facility, criminal conspiracy, hindering apprehension or prosecution, and aiding the consummation of a crime.

The preliminary hearing for John Sandidge, 31, of Pittsburgh, was postponed, although the circumstances of his case were brought out in the Cuzzocrea hearing.

Penn Hills narcotics Detective Michael Hudek testified that police intercepted a phone call April 25 between Sandidge and Bruno Cuzzocrea, in which Sandidge was invited by Cuzzocrea to dinner. Sandidge met Cuzzocrea and left about 10 minutes later, Hudek said.

Police set up a traffic stop on Verona Road. At the stop, Sandidge told police he had a gun in his car but then made a "furtive movement" toward his coat on the front seat, where police found 4 ounces of cocaine, authorities said.

Defense attorney Stan Levenson argued that Sandidge could have had the drugs in his possession prior to visiting Cuzzocrea. Some of the charges of drug delivery and possession with intent to deliver then were dismissed.

"When Bruno Cuzzocrea learned of the arrest of Sandidge, he called his ex-wife (Battiste), who was a Verona police officer at the time, and asked her to find out anything about it that she could," Hudek said, referring to another wiretap.

Battiste served as an "information conduit" and also provided storage for drugs at her house "to help further the efforts of her ex-husband," Hudek said.

After intercepting more phone calls and following Scales, police searched Crux's home.

"Throughout this investigation, we find drug deals that take place following coded conversations on the phone in which arrangements are made among the defendants," Assistant Allegheny County District Attorney Diane Berman said.

Bruno Cuzzocrea was held for trial on two counts each of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver, criminal use of a communication facility and two counts of conspiracy. Two more counts of possession with intent to deliver were dismissed.

Scales was held on two counts of conspiracy, and one count each of possession with intent to deliver and criminal use of a communication facility. Dismissed were two other counts of possession with intent to deliver possession of a controlled substance and one count of receiving stolen property.

Both Scales and Bruno Cuzzocrea remain free after posting $100,000 straight bond.

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