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Drug suspect detained without bond

| Saturday, April 27, 2002

A federal magistrate on Friday ordered the accused ringleader of a multimillion-dollar cocaine and heroin network that authorities have called the biggest ever in western Pennsylvania detained without bond.

U.S. Magistrate Kenneth Benson said Oliver Beasley, 38, of East Liberty, was too dangerous to be let back into the community and was a risk to flee.

Benson ordered a second suspect, Pamela "Auntie" Watson, 53, of the North Side, released on $100,000 bail. Benson said Watson must be confined to house arrest under electronic monitoring. Wilson was arrested last month on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Authorities found 6 pounds of heroin in the van she was driving, according to testimony.

A decision on a third suspect, Donald "Chief" Lyles, 28, of the North Side, was delayed when his Downtown attorney, Caroline M. Roberto, asked that his mother be allowed to testify to his good character.

Lyles, who is being held in the Allegheny County Jail, was described as a "lieutenant" in the drug ring and second in command behind Beasley, according to testimony.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Constance Bowden told Benson that Lyles' mother, Jacqueline Williams, a former Pittsburgh city police officer, may be implicated in the drug ring for laundering drug proceeds and would not make a convincing witness.

Williams has not been charged. She could not be reached for comment.

All three suspects, who pleaded not guilty yesterday, are charged with conspiracy to sell drugs. Eleven people have been indicted in the case and two others charged in a separate complaint.

Benson said the fact that Beasley violated probation when he was released from prison in April 1997 after serving an 87-month federal sentence on drug charges indicated he was not fit for bail.

Beasley was convicted of possession with intent to sell cocaine in May 1990.

He was put on five years' probation in April 1997. Prosecutors allege that while heading the drug ring since 1998, Beasley made unapproved trips out of western Pennsylvania and the country.

Prosecutors and investigators have built their case on more than 5,000 taped phone conversations, statements from informants and surveillance, according to testimony.

When Beasley was arrested last week, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents said they found $79,000 in his North Side business, JB's Coffee Shop and Diner.

Beasley, who has six children, had recently paid a contractor a $50,000 deposit to build a $500,000 house in Lawrence County, according to testimony.

The government has moved to seize that property along with 19 others and more than $5 million in cash and other assets.

The ring, whose drugs have been linked to at least 11 recent heroin overdose deaths, paid millions of dollars for hundreds of pounds of cocaine and heroin since 1998, according to testimony. The suspects face life in prison if convicted.

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