Three men from McKeesport were arrested in Lawrenceville Thursday morning after Pittsburgh police caught them allegedly stealing marijuana from a growing operation that included about 325 plants, which some officers said was one of the largest found in the city in 25 years. The discovery of the growing operation came on the same day Pittsburgh police capped a three-year investigation into illegal sales of synthetic marijuana at a Carrick convenience store with an arrest.
Officers found the marijuana plants on the second floor of a commercial building at Davison Street and Urbana Way after receiving a 911 call about 4 a.m. reporting suspicious activity in the area.
When officers arrived, they caught Michael Snee, 31, and Shaun Hollis, 30, who was carrying a pistol, outside the building with marijuana leaves stuck to their clothing, while Fredrick Jeffcoat, 34, was in a car with a pit bull a block away, said Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Sonya Toler.
They face a variety of charges, including burglary, criminal conspiracy, carrying a firearm without a license, possessing instruments of crime and possession with intent to distribute. Mr. Jeffcoat is also charged with driving with a suspended license. Officers sent in a K9 unit to investigate the building after the arrests, and found the grow operation and garbage bags full of dried marijuana near the entrance.
"We are very appreciative of that 911 caller who took it to heart to report suspicious activity," said Ms. Toler. "What we ended up discovering was much more significant than suspicious activity."
According to a criminal complaint filed Thursday evening, police also interviewed the owner of the building, John Balsamico, of Ross, and read him his Miranda rights, though it was unclear Thursday night whether any charges had been filed.
Nearby neighbors said they never suspected that a drug operation was being conducted on their street.
"It was a surprise. We walk by it a couple of times a week," said Margaret Atwood, 81, of Lawrenceville.
Hours after police found the hundreds of cannabis plants in Lawrenceville, officers across town executed a search warrant at a Carrick convenience store that had been under investigation for years for allegedly selling synthetic pot to children.
Pittsburgh police and Pennsylvania State Police began the investigation into Ali Zoror, 51, after they received complaints from Carrick residents their children were buying synthetic marijuana from Zach's Market on Brownsville Road.
Detectives searched the market about 10:30 a.m. and then searched Mr. Zoror's home over the course of several hours. They confiscated 30 pounds of synthetic marijuana, 50,000 pieces of drug paraphernalia and 300 packets of synthetic marijuana, according to Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler.
"That's an amazing amount of items," she said.
Mr. Zoror was being held in the Allegheny County Jail Thursday night. Exactly what charges he will face is unclear as detectives were still completing paperwork, Ms. Toler said.
While detectives searched his store Thursday morning, several people tried to get inside to buy cigarettes, hoagies and other items. The store remained locked and a woman inside would not open the door to speak to anyone.
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo. Max Radwin: firstname.lastname@example.org. Liz Navratil: email@example.com or 412-263-1438.