Son of Lower Burrell judge sentenced to 6 to 23 months in jail for part in drug ring
The son of a Lower Burrell district judge and a nephew of Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck will serve up to 23 months in jail for what prosecutors said was his role in a million-dollar marijuana distribution ring.
Stephen Yakopec III, 29, of Lower Burrell told a Westmoreland County judge Thursday he sold marijuana to fund his ongoing addiction to prescription painkillers that he developed following a series of surgeries to repair injuries he suffered while playing high school football.
“I’ve been traveling down the wrong path for a while now dealing with a disgusting painkiller habit,” Yakopec said. “That habit made me contemplate suicide several times.”
Yakopec pleaded guilty in May to six counts in three separate criminal cases in which he was charged with possession and distribution of marijuana.
According to court records, police arrested Yakopec following a traffic stop Aug. 1, 2018 in Murrysville, when they found 14 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. A subsequent search of a home Yakopec shared with his girlfriend found additional illicit drugs and empty boxes that he told police were sent to him from his drug supplier in Oregon.
He also pleaded guilty to one drug-related count in connection with a search of a Lower Burrell home in March 2018. Police said Yakopec was in the residence where 13 bags of marijuana were discovered.
The arrests came during a six-month investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Deputy Attorney General Tomm Mutschler in court on Thursday said investigators learned the drug distribution ring that Yakopec was involved with operated for two years ending in August 2018. More than 200 packages of marijuana were shipped to Western Pennsylvania.
The operation likely distributed at least $1.7 million worth of drugs, Mutschler said.
“This was a serious operation, and we ask the court to sentence appropriately,” Mutschler said. “We don’t know what happened to the money. He certainly wasn’t living as a pauper. There was a large pool being put in at his residence, but we don’t know what else the money was used for. I’m sure he used some of proceeds to support a habit.”
Yakopec’s mother, Allegheny Township-based District Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec, pleaded for leniency for her son. She said the family worked hard to limit his exposure to drugs while also blaming her son’s girlfriend, who was also charged with drug offenses, for hindering his attempts at rehabilitation.
“We don’t want her around him. They are co-defendants and co-dependents. It is bad,” said Peck Yakopec, a Lower Burrell resident. “We want to do whatever we can to help him. He was always a good person and we just want the best for him. Stephen is falling apart and we just want help him get normal again.”
Defense attorney Michael DeRiso lobbied for a probation or house arrest sentence, saying Yakopec would benefit more from a chance to continue his rehabilitation rather than serve time in jail. Yakopec has been at an inpatient drug rehabilitation clinic since August after a relapse, he said.
“He was the poster child for doctors not taking care of their patients and not weening patients off this stuff,” DeRiso said.
Westmoreland County Court Judge Tim Krieger said jail time is a more appropriate sentence. The judge ordered Yakopec to serve 6-to-23 months in behind bars but allowed him to report to the jail to begin his sentence on Oct. 28.
The month delay will allow Yakopec to complete his inpatient treatment. Krieger said he will consider an early parole request submitted to him at a later date.
“I truly believe what I am doing is in your best interest,” Krieger said.
As a condition of his sentence, Yakopec was ordered to have no contact with his girlfriend, Kacy Anderson. Anderson, 30, of Lower Burrell, was initially present at the courthouse on Thursday but told to leave by Yakopec’s lawyer.
Anderson, who was charged with six drug-related offenses, is scheduled for a jury trial in December before Krieger.
Yakopec is scheduled for a trial next month in Allegheny County on additional drug charges.
“Two times I was arrested but I continued because I had to support my addiction, keep up the facade. People thought I was a stand-up guy,” Yakopec said.
“This is a wake-up call.”
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .