Feds taking over prosecution of NYC men arrested in fentanyl bust on Pa. turnpike | TribLIVE.com

Feds taking over prosecution of NYC men arrested in fentanyl bust on Pa. turnpike

Renatta Signorini
Juan Junior Guzman (left) and Hector Taveras arrive in Norvelt on Thursday for their preliminary hearing.

Federal authorities are taking over the prosecution of two men accused of having a large amount of pure fentanyl during a traffic stop on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Westmoreland County last week.

A federal indictment was filed and arrest warrants were issued Tuesday for Juan Junior Guzman, 41, and Hector B. Taveras, 40, both of New York City.

Preliminary hearings Thursday on state drug charges connected to the bust were rescheduled while federal authorities prepare detainers for the Westmoreland County Prison, where both men are being held on $1 million bail.

State police found 3 pounds, 6 ounces of fentanyl on July 8 hidden in a westbound SUV being driven by Guzman in Mt. Pleasant Township. The SUV was headed to Pittsburgh, police said. They did not identify the neighborhood.

Authorities believe the bust was the latest operation in a network connected to the Dominican Republic that is funneling drugs into Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Troopers pulled over the 2019 Dodge Durango, owned by Taveras, at 8 a.m. after Guzman allegedly failed to move over for an emergency vehicle that was pulled off the highway. Investigators found the fentanyl in a vacuum-sealed bag in an after-market secret compartment behind the radio, according to court papers. Taveras was a passenger in the SUV.

On Thursday, Guzman and Taveras each had several family members at district court in Norvelt for their scheduled hearing. Senior District Judge Roger Eckels denied defense motions to reduce their bail.

“Did I hear them correctly, trooper — 3.6 pounds?” Eckels asked Trooper Zachary Del Sordo after the attorneys made their arguments.

Del Sordo confirmed the amount.

“Bail shall remain the same,” Eckels said.

Defense attorneys Tim Dawson and David Shrager argued that their clients have full-time jobs at home and called $1 million bail excessive.

“One million (dollars) is unreasonable; it’s punitive,” said Shrager, who is representing Taveras.

Dawson agreed.

“A million dollars to me was just a reaction by the sitting magistrate at the time,” he said. “It wasn’t my client’s car. He’s no threat to the community.”

Dawson requested a $50,000 bail, “similar to other drug cases.”

Assistant District Attorney Theresa Miller-Sporrer pointed to the amount of drugs in question in arguing bail should remain the same.

“This isn’t just any other drug case,” she said.

Guzman and Taveras are charged in the federal indictment with conspiracy and possession with intent to deliver. Federal authorities are seeking the forfeiture of $75,250. The money’s source was unclear from court papers.

No federal court action had been scheduled.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin, has been contributing to an explosion of drug overdose deaths in the region for the past few years. Fentanyl was developed as a painkiller and anesthetic for pharmaceutical uses, but the drug can be produced illicitly overseas and brought into the country.

The amount confiscated — likely was the most in Western Pennsylvania history — could have been turned into at least hundreds of thousands of doses with a street value well over $1 million. Fentanyl has been the top contributor to drug overdose deaths in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties for the last few years.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Local | Westmoreland
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.