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DA says $10M cocaine bust marks largest in Western Pa. in ‘a long time’ | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

DA says $10M cocaine bust marks largest in Western Pa. in ‘a long time’

Natasha Lindstrom
| Tuesday, February 26, 2019 8:33 p.m
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Natasha Lindstrom | Tribune-Review
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala speaks at a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.
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Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office
Police seized 23 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $10 million while executing arrest warrants against two Philadelphia men in North Braddock on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019.

The 50 pounds of cocaine worth $10 million seized in North Braddock this week marked the region’s biggest drug bust in recent memory, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala said Tuesday.

“We haven’t taken this much dope off the streets for a long time,” Zappala told reporters during an unrelated campaign event at Cupka’s Cafe in Pittsburgh’s South Side Flats neighborhood.

With help from the FBI and local police, investigators from the District Attorney’s Office on Monday arrested two highly sought-after Philadelphia men accused of having deep ties to major drug trafficking operations originating in South America, Zappala said.

Jermaine Clark and Terry Suggs Jr. were booked into Allegheny County Jail on drug and conspiracy charges. Zappala said he’s unhappy with the $25,000 bail set for each defendant.

On Wednesday, Zappala said his office plans to ask the magistrate judge to revoke the bail of both men to ensure they don’t flee the country.

Officials pegged Clark as a “head of the trafficking organization” and accused Suggs Jr. of being a co-conspirator.

They’re both accused of participating in a cocaine ring that’s been bringing illegal street drugs into communities in Western Pennsylvania for at least the past two years.

“Unfortunately, this scheme has gone on for quite some time,” Zappala said.

Zappala said investigators learned from the FBI that Clark and Suggs Jr. have lengthy criminal records related to drug charges and have been linked to major drug trafficking operations originating in countries such as Colombia and Mexico.

“These guys are of great interest to the federal government,” Zappala said. “These guys are players.”

Investigators, who had been tracking the pair’s movements, pulled the suspects over while they were driving in separate vehicles in North Braddock on Monday after securing warrants for their arrests.

Investigators say a search of their two vehicles turned up a total of 23 kilograms of cocaine — or more than 50 pounds with an estimated Street value of about $10 million.

The suspects concealed the large, plastic-sealed packages of cocaine behind the rear passenger seat within the hydraulic traps of Philadelphia-registered vehicles they were driving, police said.

Zappala said the last time he recalls a similar situation was a bust in Penn Hills, where drugs were hidden within a false bottom in a vehicle.

Such hiding techniques demonstrate “a sophisticated type of organization,” Zappala said.

Investigators say they believe that, since at least 2017, the drug ring involving Clark and Suggs Jr. has brought hundreds of kilograms of cocaine worth tens of millions of dollars from the city of Philadelphia into Western Pennsylvania neighborhoods.

After being contacted by FBI agents in Philadelphia, the District Attorney’s Narcotics Enforcement Team began investigating the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh cocaine trafficking ring in July 2018.

The team executed arrest warrants for Clark and Suggs Jr. with help from the Pennsylvania State Police and police departments in North Versailles and Swissvale.

Zappala said the case builds on collaborative law enforcement work by local and federal officials to keep drugs out of the region. In an unrelated example, Zappala cited the recent temporary closure of a McKeesport bar and pending closure of another bar at the request of the McKeesport mayor to prevent illegal drug activity from happening there.

“We’re committed to the Mon Valley and to the eastern sections of Allegheny County,” Zappala said. “I hope things like this don’t happen on a regular basis.”

Zappala said he could not say how the 23 kilograms seized Monday made its way to Philadelphia or entered the United States, noting it may very well have entered through a legal port of entry.

Fentanyl sold on the streets typically enters Pennsylvania through Canada, while the majority of heroin and cocaine originates in South America, Zappala said.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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