ShareThis Page
Westmoreland

Conviction upheld for ex-Pagans leader, Hempfield resident

Paul Peirce
| Thursday, June 14, 2018, 4:39 p.m.
Dennis “Rooster” Katona
Tribune-Review
Dennis “Rooster” Katona

In a 6-to-2 ruling Thursday, the state Superior Court reversed an appellate court decision and upheld the 2014 conviction of a former head of the Pagans motorcycle club on multiple drug charges.

A three-member appellate court panel in December 2016 ruled that Dennis “Rooster” Katona, 52, of Hempfield should be granted a new trial in Westmoreland County, citing problems with the validity of the search warrant used in the years-long investigation.

The court previously ruled that police cannot use a single search warrant to repeatedly send a wired informant into someone's home. As stipulated in earlier court rulings, “a separate finding of probable cause was required for each in-home intercept,” the court ruled in a 2-1 decison.

However, the state Attorney General's Office appealed that ruling as too narrow, and Thursday afternoon the Superior Court announced its decision.

Katona was convicted by Westmoreland Judge Debra Pezze of two counts of possession with intent to deliver and two counts of possession of a controlled substance in 2014 after police searched his Ember Lane home in July 2011 and found more than 84 grams of cocaine and nearly 100 grams of methamphetamine with a combined street value of $20,000.

The search turned up nearly $4,000, a digital scale used to weigh drugs and a document that indicated who owed Katona money, police reported.

Officers previously testified that as many as 30 state troopers stormed Katona's property and searched the home as Katona and his wife sat on a living room sofa. The drugs and money were found in a bedroom.

The full court on Thursday said that even if the wiretap recordings were “removed from the equation, the Commonwealth lawfully obtained everything (Katona) relayed to the confidential informant.”

“Evidence is potentially suppressible as fruit of the poisonous tree stemming from unconstitutional police conduct. However, any such evidence may be admitted where the Commonweath sufficiently proves that it was discoverable through an independent source,” the 38-page opinion states.

“The search warrant application provided sufficiently specific information to conclude there was probable cause to believe that (Katona) would call the confidential informant on June 29, 2011, to supply more drugs. The judgment of sentence is affirmed,” the court wrote.

Joe Grace, spokesperson for the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said the office was happy with Thursday's decision.

“The office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro is pleased with the court's decision, which upholds the sentence and conviction in this case,” he said.

Katona's attorney, Paul Boas of Pittsburgh, did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment on the decision.

Katona, former national president of the outlaw Pagans motorcycle club, had served 63 months in federal prison for his role in a 2002 attack on Hell's Angels at the “Hellraiser Ball” in Long Island, N.Y. Seventy-two other Pagans were charged in the brawl. One Pagan was killed. Ten men were injured.

Superior Judge Mary Janes Bowes wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, Judith Olson, Paula Francisco Ott, Victor P. Stabile, Alice B. Dubow. Dissenting were Judges Anne E. Lazarus and Jacqueline O. Shogan.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, ppeirce@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me