Attorney claims police made false statement in search warrant for Pittsburgh Mills mall store
The attorney for a Pittsburgh Mills mall store owner charged with selling counterfeit merchandise has accused a former Frazer police officer of lying in a search warrant that ultimately lead to the criminal proceedings against his client.
Attorney Casey White again asked a judge to throw out the charge against Tommy Wang, 42, of Highland Park.
In a March 27 motion filed with Allegheny County Judge Randal B. Todd, White claimed the charge should be dismissed based on a false statement included in a search warrant for Wang’s store.
In the search warrant, former Frazer police Officer Lee Bartolicius said he consulted with Capt. Tom Crist of the state Fish and Boat Commission. According to the search warrant, Crist allegedly told Bartolicius, “It is common for a person engaged in illegal activity specifically of Asian descent to buy, sell, trade and breed in exotic, protected and endangered fish.”
White says he later was informed by Wayne Melnick, chief counsel of the Fish and Boat Commission, that Crist never said that.
Bartolicius now works for the Duquesne Police Department. He could not be reached for comment.
In an email exchange included in the motion, Melnick told White that Crist recalled having a conversation with local police but had no independent recollection that it was Bartolicius. Crist’s recollection was of a general request for assistance, and he didn’t recall the statements attributed to him by Bartolicius.
“The entire alleged conversation between the two law enforcement agencies never happened. The statement in the affidavit of probable cause is false and a lie,” White said. “This case should be dismissed because this offensive and material misstatement set in motion a series of events that led to the eventual arrest of Mr. Wang.”
The investigation into Wang, the Asian-American owner of the store, started after Frazer police were called to the store inside the mall, Shop Off the Hanger, for a report of an attempted burglary in February 2018, according to the criminal complaint filed in the case.
Bartolicius saw more than 100 items of what appeared to be unlicensed, counterfeit merchandise, the police report states. Investigators went to the store twice in March to look at, take pictures of and purchase counterfeit items, the complaint said.
A search warrant served March 15 allegedly turned up seven pallets containing almost 1,800 suspected counterfeit items, including glass coasters, flags, clocks, beer mugs and wine glasses containing Harley-Davidson, Pitt, Penn State, Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Steelers logos.
White filed his first dismissal motion with Todd’s office last month, claiming the investigation into Wang was a “racially charged witch hunt.” He said police specifically targeted Wang because of his race and called the prosecution illegal.
Prosecutors in February contested White’s claims, saying police acted appropriately and without racial motivation in the case. They asked the judge not to dismiss the charge.
Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said he didn’t have a comment on White’s new dismissal motion.
Wang is set to appear for a nonjury trial April 10.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, [email protected] or via Twitter .